Compared with CIOs in other industries, government CIOs tend not to partner with startups and midsize companies, missing out on new ideas, skills and technologies.
Rick Howard, research vice president at Gartner, says 2016 proved to be a watershed year in which frustration with the status quo of government was widely expressed by citizens at the voting booth and on the streets, accompanied by low levels of confidence and trust about the performance of public institutions.
"This has to be addressed head on," says Howard.
"Government CIOs in 2017 have an urgent obligation to look beyond their own organisations and benchmark themselves against top-performing peers within the public sector and from other service industries. They must commit to pursuing actions that result in immediate and measurable improvements that citizens recognise and appreciate."
Government CIOs as a group anticipate a 1.4 per cent average increase in their IT budgets, compared with an average 2.2 per cent increase across all industries, notes Howard, citing the results of the latest global CIO survey by Gartner.
Gartner's 2017 CIO Agenda survey includes the views of 2598 CIOs from 93 countries, representing US$9.4 trillion in revenue or public sector budgets and $292 billion in IT spending, including 377 government CIOs in 38 countries.
The survey finds top-performing organisations in the private and public sectors, on average, spend a greater proportion of their IT budgets on digital initiatives (33 per cent ) than government organisations (21 per cent ), reports Gartner.
For next year, top-performing organisations anticipate spending 43 per cent of their IT budgets on digitalisation, compared with 28 per cent for government CIOs.
In the survey, Howard notes local government CIOs fare better, averaging 3.5 per cent growth, which is still more than 1 per cent less on average than IT budget growth among top-performing organisations overall (4.6 per cent).
Gartner says the data is consistent with its benchmark analytics, which indicate that average IT spending for state and local governments in 2016 represented 4 per cent of operating expenses, up from 3.6 per cent in 2015.
For national and international government organisations, average IT spending as a percentage of operating expenses in 2016 was 9.4 per cent, up from 8.6 per cent in 2015.
"Whatever the financial outlook may be, government CIOs who aspire to join the group of top performers must justify growth in the IT budget by clearly connecting all investments to lowering the business costs of government and improving the performance of government programs," says Howard, in a statement.
Government CIOs have an urgent obligation to look beyond their own organisations and benchmark themselves against top-performing peers within the public sector and from other service industries
The top three barriers that government CIOs report they must overcome to achieve their objectives are skills or resources (26 per cent ), funding or budgets (19 per cent ), and culture or structure of the organisation (12 per cent ).
Looking into the areas in which workforce skills are lacking, the government sector is vulnerable in the domain of data analytics (30 per cent ), which includes information, analytics, data science and business intelligence. Security and risk is ranked second for government overall (23 per cent ).
Howard says government CIOs must bridge the skills gap by extending their networks of experts outside the agency.
"Compared with CIOs in other industries, government CIOs tend not to partner with startups and midsize companies, missing out on new ideas, skills and technologies."
Top tech investment priorities
Gartner also asked respondents to identify technologies with the most potential to change their organisations over the next five years.
Advanced analytics takes the top spot across all levels of government (79 per cent ). Digital security remains a critical investment for all levels of government (57 per cent ), particularly in defense and intelligence (74 per cent).
The Internet of Things will clearly drive transformative change for local governments (68 per cent ), whereas interest in business algorithms is highest among national governments (41 per cent ).
All levels of government presently see less opportunity in machine learning or blockchain than top performers do.
Local governments are slightly more bullish than the rest of government and top performers when it comes to autonomous vehicles (9 per cent ) and smart robots (6 per cent ), reports Gartner.
Send news tips and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow Divina Paredes on Twitter: @divinap
Join the CIO New Zealand group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.