Transforming Government Through Next Generation Technology

Governments everywhere are struggling with unprecedented challenges. They're expected to reignite a global economy in free-fall, while grappling with crumbling infrastructure, aging populations, declining quality in education and healthcare -- plus a heightened social concern about preserving the environment.

All in a budgetary environment of declining tax revenues.

Like the private sector, governments are now turning to technology to help them to improve both the delivery of government services and to promote overall economic growth.

Building 21st Century Economies
Like the waterways and highways of previous centuries, government leaders recognize they must create essential tech infrastructure to fuel innovation-led growth and prosperity. High-speed broadband is seen as a catalyst for encouraging economic development. However, meaningful services are required to stimulate demand.

For example, Germany has committed €4.6 Billion to install Telepresence capabilities throughout its schools -- to improve the quality of its education system, while reducing costs.

Similar to the access of electricity and the telephone, governments recognize the social equity of providing broadband access to everyone. Thereby using technology to improve the quality of inner-city schools, encourage more telecommuting and increase the productivity of rural economies.

Delivering 21st Century Public Services
There are significant opportunities for progressive governments to:
  • Reduce Costs of Delivery – delivering online services, collaboration tools, and video, not only lowers costs to serve but enhances the overall customer experience.
  • Empower Citizens – employing Web 2.0 capabilities, such as collaboration and social networking, allows citizens to more easily interact with their government.
  • Improve Levels of Service – Kiosks, Telepresence units, or VoIP enabled call centers for 311 calls, raises service levels and the overall experience.
Creating 21st Century Governments
Both taxpayers and public servants now recognize that the business of government must evolve, and that technology plays a critical role in this transformation. Likewise, technology providers can choose to partner with governments on this journey.

Research by Cisco IBSG (the company's strategic consulting arm) reveals that the public sector has a number of unique requirements:
  • Funding Models – providers must find creative new ways to pay for the new technologies, such as managed services and public-private partnerships.
  • Skill Shortages – hiring freezes and lack of skills, means that governments require significant help in design, implementation and management of technology.
  • Integrated Solutions – across multiple departments and levels of government, but also with not-for-profits, agencies, multiple partners and other parties.
  • Innovation – the private sector can proactively bring new and innovative solutions to legacy problems -- seeding the transformation.
Managed Services offers a proven way to help transform government for the 21st Century. However, service providers will need to recognize the unique needs of the public sector and to partner with the champions of progress, to address their most pressing challenges.

About the author: Stuart Taylor is a Director in Cisco IBSG. Stuart leads thought leadership and engagements with key Service Providers in managed services. He has over 15 years of experience focused on strategy, corporate development, business unit strategy, M&A and operational improvement with large mobile and wireline operators and high technology clients.

Non-Profit Gains Budget Relief for Telecom Needs

Non-profit organizations share many of the same communication challenges as other businesses. Their budgetary pressures can also create some unique situations, especially when you consider the scale of their ongoing outreach.

The Greater Illinois Chapter is one of over seventy Alzheimer's Association chapters serving communities across the United States. Currently, the Illinois chapter serves over half a million residents affected by the disease.

They're active in more than 60 counties in Illinois. Since 1980, the non-profit organization has provided information and support, as well as family services, for those affected by the disease. Staying connected to their numerous constituents, and the overall community, is essential.

Streamlining Communication Processes
As the chapter grew, they needed big business telecom functionality -- only on a non-profit budget. In the preparation to move into a new facility, the decision was made to replace their phone system. Managing six office sites, they needed a solution that would lessen the work load on their already strained small technical staff.

After evaluating several options for a voice and data network, the Alzheimer's Association selected Geckotech's SimpleVoIP phone service for its proven ability to deliver a reliable and highly flexible solution.

By utilizing a fully hosted service, the organization has gained additional functionality and operational efficiencies not available with their prior, and less capable, telephone system.

Communication Simplicity, by Design
By connecting all office locations over a common network, employees can use simplified four-digit dialing between locations. This inherent feature of the hosted solution has greatly reduced operating costs, by eliminating the expense of intra-company toll charges.

Geckotech's VoIP phones can be configured for hoteling (shared use), which is especially beneficial for volunteers who work in the office on a flexible schedule. Other features have enhanced ease of use -- such as an Automated Attendant that directs incoming callers to the correct department, call forwarding to mobile phones, and voicemail notification via email.

Resulting benefits from the changeover include a dedicated number and voicemail for the Special Events group, improved routing of incoming calls, free adds/moves/changes and access to a 24x7 technical support team at Geckotech.

Savvy Budgeting in a Tight Economy
These are trying times for non-profit organizations. However, meaningful budget relief -- and improved operational efficiency -- is possible for those organizations that make informed business technology decisions that are based upon a complete financial analysis of the alternatives.

The Alzheimer’s Association recognized a great return on investment with Geckotech's Hosted VoIP Phone service and their IT department has since enjoyed time spent on more pertinent projects, rather than babysitting the phone system.

IT Survival in the Hunt, Kill, Eat Economy

Business Technology related market research used to be targeted primarily at the CIO or IT manager roles within an organization. How times have changed. Research and Markets has added the "Business Technology Trends & Impacts Advisory Service" subscription to their market study offerings.

The service is designed to help all savvy business decision makers develop and implement an effective IT strategy, plus take advantage of the opportunities -- and face the many challenges -- today's rapidly evolving business technology changes will bring.

Developing a Plan of Attack
Clients will receive the usual forecasts and predictions, as well as the strategic implications of those predictions. Subscribers receive advice on practices they can employ now to help organizations succeed within the turbulent economic environment.

The Cutter Business Technology Council is the source of this insight, which includes a team of IT authorities who use a collaborative forecasting approach to provide clients with monthly Council Opinions and present future scenarios for business technology and its many applications.

Monthly council opinions provide a steady flow of predictions, including commentary from each Council Fellow and the logic behind their concurring or dissenting opinion, as well as the strategic implications of the apparent trend.

TelePresence and Other Innovations
Recent opinions have focused on software delivery versus compliance; removing barriers to collaboration through TelePresence; the new IT governance model; IT in the "hunt, kill, eat" economy; systems acquisition and management; timing IT investments, vernacular computing, and more.

Twice-monthly Executive Updates include statistical results of related market research. Cutter's market research focuses on topics such as IT funding, organizational agility, information security, instant messaging, IT litigation, and more.

Weekly Trends E-Mail Advisor alerts subscribers to new technologies, the latest advancements in technology implementation, and new thinking on technology management -- such as managed and hosted services.

The Data Center Metamorphosis
Significant transformations within the realm of the evolving data center, such as the emergence of Unified Computing models, will be an incremental topic included in our ongoing commentary -- right here on the Business Technology Roundtable.

Many forward-looking organizations are eager to develop next-generation data centers that unleash the full power of virtualization. Unified Computing is an architecture that bridges the silos in the data center into a single unified architecture -- using industry standard technologies.

Best MSP Procurement Checklist - part 1

The process of researching, reviewing and selecting a managed or hosted service provider can be a daunting task for those business and technology decision makers that have never performed this task before. Like any other process, there are some best practices.

The following candid questions will help you determine if a provider of managed services can meet and exceed your expectations. Also included are examples of specific details that you should seek.

How do you select a best-fit service provider? Ask all the right questions. Where do you start the selection process? Focus primarily on how the service offered will help to solve problems or create new opportunities -- not merely what it does (its features and functions).

1. Are you prepared to offer only the features and functions that my business needs, instead of the ones that you include in your one-size-fits-all service bundle?
  • Ask for a list of all the "standard" items included in the base bundle.
  • Request details of all optional items that can be added and/or subtracted.
According to recent market research, decision makers at companies of all sizes now prefer that service offerings only include essential features as mandatory elements in a bundle. All other features may then be selected from a menu of options.

2. Can you describe the services that you offer -- and their business benefits -- in terms that I, and the other members of my executive team, will understand?
  • The salesperson or sales support person should address your specific needs.
  • Ask the service provider to explain any terms that you don't understand.
If you can't determine how the managed services will directly benefit your business, then you'll be unable to make an informed decision. Qualified service providers should be able to describe their offerings within the context of your specific business requirements.

3. Will you provide case study materials to demonstrate how you delivered a managed service solution that solved a business challenge similar to mine?
  • Documented customer success stories provide useful insight.
  • Reference checks should include details on the business impact.
While a service provider with limited experience may be able to meet your application needs, those that can clearly articulate the methodology they use to meet their existing customer needs will likely provide a better fit. Moreover, a basic knowledge of how your industry operates will help to avoid misunderstandings.

Note: these are the first three questions from a list of ten. The remaining Q&A will be featured in part 2 and part 3. We'll also provide a link to a complete list that you can download, and a useful ROI calculator to help you build a business case.

Transforming Healthcare with Creative IT Solutions

Healthcare is constantly in the spotlight as aging populations, technological advances and high-costs threaten the very fabric of the current system. Healthcare providers and insurers are under constant social, political and shareholder pressure to both improve quality of delivery and lower operational costs.

To proactively evolve, forward-looking insurers and providers need to focus on:
  • Access -- ensuring that patients are properly insured and the facilities are available to treat them;
  • Affordability -- driving down costs across all parts of the system;
  • Quality -- ensuring quality and successful treatment outcome;
  • Sustainability -- focus on managing labor force resources and green issues.
New Approaches to Technology Driven Transformation
Despite being an industry heavily dependant on the use of the latest in medical technologies, healthcare has traditionally been slow to use information technology and services to improve their business processes. Healthcare has some of the most stringent concerns about privacy and security, and regulatory constraints. It is a highly fragmented industry, with over 70% of healthcare typically dispensed by autonomous professionals.

This unique industry structure has resulted in both a lower uptake of technology and the desire for high-cost in-house IT development and operation. Research by Cisco IBSG (the company's strategic consulting arm) reveals that this is beginning to change.

To-date most of the focus has been on using information technology to address the eHealth, or patient records issue, with mixed results. In contrast, Cisco IBSG believes that implementing next generation managed services, outside of the clinical area, can have a significant transformational impact.

Creative Solutions for Challenging Times
We are now seeing both healthcare providers and insurers exploring the potential benefits of managed services to streamline their operations and to improve the overall customer experience. Insurers are eager to encourage competition amongst providers, to drive down costs.

IBSG research indicates insurers are experimenting with using healthcare-specific telepresence solutions to remotely deliver healthcare, reducing costs and improving the overall customer experience.

For example, United Healthcare recently installed a HealthPresence managed service at Cisco's main San Jose, California campus. This allows employees to conveniently access medical support at their place of work, and enables United Healthcare to deliver it using less expensive medical resources in a more streamline process.

Healthcare providers are using managed services to address the cost and quality impacting issues. A hospital wide wireless RFID solution allows caregivers to quickly locate wheelchairs, trolleys and critical equipment, saving not just time and money, but often someone's life. Similar examples exist with locating doctors, identifying their availability, and across other parts of the medical supply chain.

Healthcare providers need to compete on service quality and loyalty. Providers are turning to next generation managed services as a means to enhance their offerings. For example, hospitals are using telepresence kiosks to create in-house concierge services to aid both patients and visitors to improve their overall hospital experience.

Transforming healthcare is going to require radical change. Managed services outside of the traditional clinical area have great potential. However, service providers must work with both insurers and healthcare organizations -- across all aspects of their business -- to develop unique IT solutions that help them to deliver lasting business advantage, and reduce operational costs.

About the author: Stuart Taylor is a Director in Cisco IBSG. Stuart leads thought leadership and engagements with key Service Providers in managed services. He has over 15 years of experience focused on strategy, corporate development, business unit strategy, M&A and operational improvement with large mobile and wireline operators and high technology clients.

Strategic Perspective Impacts IT Investment

While most business leaders globally are planning on keeping their IT budgets flat and there will be no growth in 2009, a recent market study by analyst firm Datamonitor reveals that in some countries, people are much more confident about their future outlook -- with planned IT budget increases exceeding the decreases.

“It is clear there has been a noticeable decline in enterprise confidence. However, the findings are not as negative as might have been expected”, says Daniel Okubo, technology analyst with Datamonitor.

“Despite the rise in the proportion of IT budgets which are remaining flat, there are still a sizable proportion of enterprises which are planning to increase IT expenditure. Technology vendors should be keenly aware that the economic conditions of a country directly impacts enterprise IT budgets.”

Reacting to the Downside
Datamonitor surveyed 520 IT decision makers towards the end of 2008 to gain a better understanding of how business and IT decision makers are reacting to the global economic crisis, and to gauge their confidence levels.

Across all of the 14 countries surveyed in the second half of 2008, there was a rise in the proportion of planned IT budget decreases compared to a similar survey conducted in first half of 2008.

The percentage of IT decision makers who plan to decrease their IT budget significantly in 2009 has risen to 8 percent from 3 percent, over the last 6 months. Apparently, confidence is lowest in the UK, France and Italy.

In these three countries the proportion of respondents planning to decrease their IT budget outweighs those that are planning to increase their IT budget in 2009. Noticeably, there are also a significant proportion of enterprises in the U.S. and Spain that are planning IT budget decreases.

Unsurprisingly all these economies are projected negative GDP growth in 2009.

Thriving on Strategic Anticipation
However, regardless of the bleak outlook for some countries, enterprises in Benelux, Nordics and Australia appear to be much more confident about their future outlook with planned IT budget increases outstripping IT budget decreases.

These economies are expected to be less affected by the economic downturn, with the exception of Iceland, and this is reflected in Datamonitor’s findings. Moreover, rather than invest in new systems and associated software, more forward-looking companies are now choosing a different -- more strategic -- path to meet their IT needs.

Preparing for the Upside
Business and IT decision makers that are evolving to the managed and hosted services model are typically more interested in raising their efficiency and competitiveness, beyond merely cutting IT and networking costs.

While they share their peer group’s concern with the current economic environment, they also are preparing to pre-position their organizations for the eventual recovery. Rather than totally dwell on the negative, they have the foresight to lay the foundation now – enabling them to quickly act upon the upside opportunities.