When it comes to technology strategies, there is clear debate about whether it’s best to standardize services or adopt a custom approach. Seems that a greater degree of the technology and manufacturing world agree that standard service is optimal, while most certainly customization is the preferred approach from the business organization. Standardization and customization have different upsides, but undeniably customization has a higher cost. Standardization ensures uniformity while customization adds that personal touch… but at what cost
Nebraska’s consolidation of IT has fundamentally changed the State, from a divergent and customized view of technology to a standardized view. For an organization to grow and mature a level of standardization is necessary. Standardization improves reliability, effectiveness (speed of execution), and can result in economic efficiencies according to a Senior Economist at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.
The additional benefit of technology standardization, the OCIO team discovered, was our ability to respond to thousands of concurrent work from home requests last year. The infrastructure was in place for secure network connectivity, a single teleconferencing system was utilized, capacity was not an issue, the eight Site Support Service Centers across the State were trained on our system to be capable of IT supporting these requests and a single OCIO Service Desk number was well-established to call for assistance.
Many who are in the business organization believe that customization is more customer centric and therefore provides enhanced customer service. Our evidence shows the opposite throughout our State. Standardization made us more responsive to our customers, allowed us to be more efficient in troubleshooting issues, allowed for faster deployment strategy. These business implications resulted in our lower support costs. Our Customer Service went as far as delivering equipment to someone’s home and assisting in workstation/software set-up. This is true customization, and it was facilitated by standardization. Nebraska’s standardization and self-service approach simplified user adoption, prompted smarter workflows, and a decreased Service Desk tickets (as seen in our 2020 metrics). Another result of standardization, the compliance team would validate, is our reduced risk of non-compliance.
I can remember years ago leading a technical team that supported 5000+ Blockbuster Video stores, a mix of franchise stores and corporate stores. The team quickly resolved issues within the corporate stores due to the standardization that was present. However, this was not the case with the franchise stores. Tech support began each call with “what color is your monitor” trying to determine what version of hardware and software was being utilized. At some stores there were various generations of equipment in play, other stores still utilized old-fashioned equipment with green screen computer displays. The average length of a call to support the franchise stores was twice as long, due entirely to the non-standardization we encountered. Yes, metrics have always been part of my management tool kit and even more so in my manufacturing years, regarding decision making and process improvement.
When it comes to customization the questions we ask are along the lines of: How different is your market audience? How do they really differ from each other? How large is your market? Is there a significant language barrier? Does the physical environment change dramatically across your market base? Are there legal or regulatory requirements that differ significantly? How many stories have we read about or been part of where an upgrade of a common off-the-shelf product was made nearly impossible because of customization we introduced to the product, rather than adjusting our processes to fit the functionality provided by the tool?
Government should focus on efficiently fulfilling a resident’s request, not concerning about gaining market share via customization. The only customized product I know of offered by the State of Nebraska is a motor vehicle license plate and there is an anticipated cost for that customization. Can you imagine the cost to offer a customized size for a license plate or a plate made of a different material? What if the States decided that they would customize the spacing of the mounting holes? How much do you think it would cost to offer a Texas A&M plate in Nebraska? The answer doesn’t matter, it would be worth whatever the cost (I wrote that for my team, who is probably going to stop reading now). Standardized products lower operating costs and increase efficiencies with developing products.
Choosing the best hybrid approach is what I believe we have done in Nebraska via a well-planned strategy. Delegating control of Agency specific applications to the Agencies which localizes their customer facing content while standardizing infrastructure, enterprise applications, maintaining compliance, and enhancing productivity by gaining the efficiencies of a standardized approach.
As always, I appreciate your efforts to provide quality services to the State Agencies and the Citizens of Nebraska!