Comparing Private and Public Sector IT Culture

Information Technology culture in government compared to private sector is quite different, here is how.

I have spent 23 years in the IT industry as a vendor and consultant.  My experience led me to be director of Rent-A-PC, Inc. a national trade-show IT service and then CIO for Nassau County for 8 years.  I own a technology consultancy called United Network Associates, Inc. (UNA) , that was started in June of 2000 where I serve as IT strategist and senior technology adviser for the corporation.

The one thing that continues to differentiate IT in corporate compared to government is the SILO effect.  This is an amazing situation that takes some time getting used to.  Coming from Corporate business and understanding the IT behaviors in the private sector it took me about a year to understand and accept the differences in the behaviors.

In the Private sector, an IT engineer has the ability to span their knowledge in many directions.  Based on the technology investment that company has made the IT engineer will adapt and learn the necessary tools and skills to operate and master the administration of that new technology.  Whether it is a new mobile platform, a new server system, a new Wi-Fi brand or new Networking system to secure cyberthreats, that private sector IT engineer will dig their heels in and adapt to that new system.  I have to mention that businesses that have tapped into the effect of creating a culture of learning in their companies, the IT engineer will flourish and advance quickly in cross technology understanding as well as have a grasp of the impact a new system will have on the organization.  An IT engineer in a company will have cross communication with other members of the IT organization to maximize their effect on the company.  It is common to find IT engineers in enterprises with significant cross technology understanding.  Specifically, in networking and server technologies, app development and database administration, desktop support and help desk. Today’s corporate IT Server engineer will have the ability and experience to administer networks and databases.  In the corporate world, a database administrator will have the ability to understand and have experience in software development.  In a company, the help desk technician will also be trained and perform as a Desktop technician and be versed in both services.

I have found an opposite culture in Government Information Technology Services.  Since the tradition of Civil Service and the methodology of hiring is based on hiring for a specific task, the cross-technology experience is lost.  Civil Service is the standards in hiring for government employees and was created and designed to thwart the possibility of government officials in hiring their friends and family.  The unfortunate effect of this hiring method is that each IT technician or engineer is hired for a specific task only.  Once that IT person is hired into that position, that technician is assigned work only in that category.  The job specifications must be very specific because of the legal issues over years in contractors taking work away from union staff.  The other effect is to deter politicians from recommending friends and family into that position without them having direct knowledge of the work.

Once that IT person is embedded into that position, that person tends to protect their knowledge and create their own silo to get that part done.

The effect for me was that when I needed to implement a new technology, it would take a manager from each discipline to be part of their planning meetings.  Each manager of each category would have to weigh in and agree to the time line and implementation details for each and every project or task.  This behavior causes IT projects to take significantly longer to complete.

During my 8-year tenure as CIO, I spent significant time in trying to correct this situation by re-configuring the IT tiles for Nassau County and allowing a broader scope of work to be done by the entry level positions.  This began to create a learning culture where technicians that started in the entry level titles were able to do all IT work including networking, help desk, software design and database work.

A Significant leadership effort must be made for government to adopt to the culture of an IT organization in a corporate enterprise.  Until this is tackled appropriately, and civil service law is modernized to adapt to the changing world of technology, government IT will continue to have very long implementation cycles and trouble modernizing to current standards.

Ed Eisenstein,




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