As a former CIO in a Massachusetts health care agency, I have spent much of my career immersed in technology solutions designed to improve the health and well-being of our citizens. Along the way, I encountered many dedicated public health care professionals, including physicians, nurses, clinicians, and social workers particularly adept at diagnosing health issues and implementing predictive measures aimed at preventing illnesses.
Similarly, whenever I took on a new role, I focused on minimizing risk and complexity by taking an incremental approach to prioritizing which systems were in failing health from an IT perspective.
Today, with cloud environments replacing the sprawling on-premises data centers, it’s rare that one can justify or afford the “big bang” type of system replacement, so an IT triage plan is more important than ever before. Here are my five recommendations:
#1: Determine which systems generate the most complaints to your customer contact center. Surging customer complaints are a sure sign of a system problem. It gets exponentially more complicated when those complaints reach the governor’s office, where you can be sure that the scrutiny will increase tenfold, potentially causing reactive decision-making rather than a more carefully crafted solution.
#2: Modify systems that lack agility. Requirements can change rapidly. When I worked at the tax department in Massachusetts, legislators would regularly propose changes to the tax code, which would inevitably wreak havoc on the existing tax system, requiring expensive custom coding, and time-consuming testing by specialized personnel. It was never a pleasant conversation to tell the Commissioner that the legislatively mandated changes would take eight months to code, test, and deploy. Today, “rules-based” solutions - which can plug into existing systems - allow for changes to be made much more swiftly and accurately.
#3: Replace systems that experience an inordinate amount of downtime. For example, if your CRM solution needs to be taken offline regularly (e.g., once per quarter) for “routine system maintenance,” consider replacement. Look for a cloud-based software solution, also known as Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), which can perform all of the same functions as your existing CRM (and probably more).
#4: Identify and repair systems with broken components that are not providing full functionality. Is there a middleware component that is expensive to maintain, requires constant developer tweaking, and performs poorly? Broken, or incomplete systems are costly to maintain and require too much staff attention.
#5: Ensure all environments (Test/Dev/Production) are consistent. Errors can occur when a new application is developed in one environment, tested on another, and then put into production on yet a third. A cloud-based platform enables you to pay for the development and test environments you need, precisely for the time you need them, leveraging components that exactly match your production environment, thereby saving time and unforeseen costly production errors.
Time for an IT Health Maintenance Plan
Once you get the most critical systems under control, it’s time to apply a periodic review process called “application rationalization.” This formal vetting process should include key IT and business/program staff. These teams sort applications into categories to determine which ones can be retired outright, replaced with cloud-native solutions, require a code rewrite, can be consolidated, or simply don’t need any intervention at all.
Perform this review regularly because business requirements change, technology improves, and user demands evolve.
It’s important for government IT leaders to emulate our private sector colleagues, who constantly evolve in order to stay ahead of the IT curve, meet the demand of their customers, and stay ahead of the competition. While government may not necessarily have competitors, leaders are motivated to operate more cost-efficiently and meet the changing customer demands. Your public sector customers will expect the same level of service and innovation.
Bob Nevins will be speaking on IT modernization at the Medical Enterprise Systems Conference (MESC) August 13-16, 2018.