Small and mid-sized business owners who want their information technologies to be as future-proof as possible might want to borrow a page or two from government playbooks.
While not always recognized for their forward thinking, a few government agencies – including the US federal government and the government in New South Wales, Australia, have launched initiatives to develop IT policies with the long game in mind. And many of the strategies they’re looking at apply equally well to SMEs.
So what exactly is future-proof IT? According to the digital strategy laid out by the US CIO’s office, it’s IT that can “keep up with the pace of change in technology … produce better content and data, and present it through multiple channels in a program- and device-agnostic way.” It’s also private, secure and based on open standards.
Building that kind of IT infrastructure requires the following:
Making the most of the technology in place rather than building new. The US federal IT policy, for example, aims to shut down duplicative and underused data centers while optimizing the rest. Virtualization and a shift to the cloud both help with this.
An “information-centric” approach that focuses on managing discrete pieces of data and content rather than documents. As the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention puts it, it’s a “create once, publish everywhere mindset.”
A focus on modular development built on open standards, interoperability and Web APIs. For instance, the city of San Francisco now makes freely available its raw data on public transportation routes, schedules and location updates. This has encouraged citizen-developers to write numerous mobile apps to help commuters navigate the city’s transit systems.
Making sure digital records are maintained in a way that’s secure, accessible and “adequately assessed and treated for risks.” The government of New South Wales cites the example of the deadly 2010 gas pipeline explosion in San Bruno, California, which was ultimately blamed in part on poor information management practices by Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). “The lack of complete and accurate pipeline information prevented PG&E’s integrity management program from being effective.”
An end to old-fashioned and inflexible workplace habits like printing multiple copies of paper reports or requiring employees to be at their desks from 9 to 5. “(W)e need a ‘future ready’ workforce equipped with the modern tools and technologies they need,” said Steve VanRoekel, the US federal CIO. “We need smart telework policies that give our employees increased flexibility while also reducing our real estate footprint … And overall we need to shift away from a paper-based mindset and focus on delivering information efficiently and effectively using digital tools. For half the price the government paid for a printed copy of all volumes of the federal register – last year – you could buy a tablet, download the free digital version, and navigate the 50,000-plus pages with ease to find the information you need.”
This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet.