The 5 most challenging IT tasks facing local governments

Commentary: From cybersecurity to time management, PTI's Dale Bowen shares what IT leaders from across the country are saying about their toughest tasks.
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Local government IT executives are pulled in many different directions as they address daunting challenges, whether it is managing the day-to-day operation of the IT department, strengthening the effectiveness of the IT organization as a valued partner within the enterprise, or improving relationships and capabilities within the IT department.

The Public Technology Institute polled local government IT executives earlier this year to determine which tasks were most difficult found five that are generally considered “very challenging:”

1. Security (cyber and network)

Becoming aware of and fending off cybersecurity issues are no longer just an IT department responsibility. Through proper and frequent cybersecurity awareness training, this is now the responsibility of everyone in the enterprise.


2. Fostering innovation

Innovation is certainly a cultural challenge. Making customer service a priority, encouraging teamwork, recognizing accomplishments and having fun along the way, even if it just starts at the department level, can set an example that spreads out across the enterprise and up through all levels of management.

Wendy Wickens, director of information technology for Loudoun County, Virginia, told PTI that many local governments are so busy with day-to-day operations that finding time to foster innovation can seem impossible, but it’s not.

“Nowadays to not only survive, but thrive, IT needs to ‘innovate the business’ and demonstrate value to the organization,” Wickens said. “Because most local governments have very formalized structures, it is often difficult to tackle innovation unless the CIO finds ways to overcome the hierarchical mindset and think out of the box. In Loudoun, we’ve instituted ‘Tiger Teams’ to implement innovative solutions. These teams are made up of individuals from multiple disciplines, across DIT, and work closely with the County departments to solve business problems by leveraging technology in innovative ways. CIOs must be organizationally agile and creative to foster innovation in their organizations.”

Innovation is an organizational culture, and it is a topic that extends well beyond IT, though most times IT is the driver. IT staff need to understand business relationship management, change management, and project management. IT staff need to understand the risks and impacts that a lack of an innovative culture has on innovation projects. The organization should always question “why” they are engaging in innovation project before they come up with the “how.”


3. Promoting and managing change

Communication, as well as building trust and confidence, are the keys to this challenge. You still might get some grumbling, but it’s typically short-lived when you explain why, how and when.

“Encouraging and promoting training for individuals who desire to take on new challenges is critical to staying on top of new technology and fostering innovation, said Michael Szewczyk, information systems manager for Casper, Wyoming. “The training line item needs to be a top budget priority.”

Chris J. Neves, IT director for Louisville, Colorado, told PTI infrastructure and application environments are evolving faster than ever.

“IT needs to help to grow an organizational culture through communication to all levels of staff to set clear deliverables for projects and initiatives and answer ‘why’ these changes are important,” Neves said.


4. Time management

Strong teamwork helps to alleviate time management issues, especially in times of heavy workloads. Team members can support each other as well as publicly recognize each other’s efforts.

5. Keeping abreast of technology advancement

“From a leadership perspective, it’s imperative that staff is allowed sufficient time for both professional and informal (cross) training, even if that training is outside the individual’s current area of responsibilities,” said Byron Rice, information systems director in Summit County, Colorado. “This fosters the desire for learning and growth and elevates the entire team.”

What’s next?


The Public Technology Institute has developed modules to address the most critical issues facing public sector IT leadership as part of its Certified Government CIO program, a yearlong course that lays the foundation for assessing and addressing critical challengs.

Remember, you are not alone!

Dale Bowen is the deputy executive director for program development at the Public Technology Institute. For information on workforce issues, IT department education and training budgets, barriers with regard to attracting new IT staff, job applicant missing skill sets, see this PTI infographic.

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