NY CIO: In the future, states will share systems
Acting CIO Daniel Chan stakes out ways to prove IT's value
A New York state commission is expected to release recommendations next June on how to streamline the state’s hodgepodge of programs and processes, which, like many states’, are behind the technology curve, duplicative and draining taxpayer dollars.
The report, by the Spending and Government Efficiency (SAGE) commission appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in January, will look across state services and agencies and propose steps to manage the state's IT investment, estimated to be as high as $2 billion.
The governor's focus on IT efficiency is a key reason acting state CIO Daniel Chan says his top priority is to determine the size and scope of the state’s IT spending. Understanding that will help identify what IT programs work or don’t work, he said, and therefore which steps to take next.
“The bottom line is we don’t really have a good handle on how much of an investment we’re actually making,” said Chan, who was named acting CIO in April. “And to some degree the fact that we don’t really understand that makes it difficult to get a handle on how effective IT really is – so what we need is a good baseline.”
Chan is helping develop the State Financial System (SFS), a two-year old Oracle enterprise resource planning project aimed at sifting the financial minutiae of state expenditures. “The system will give us an idea of how much we are really spending on servers, networks and [staff],” he said. “Without getting detailed data, it’s difficult to make a decision about what you’re going to do first or what project is going to give you the biggest impact.”
A powerful lens will be needed. A recent assessment by Deloitte showed that the state was doing well in mainframe management, but not so well in its data center strategy. The study identified 50 data centers operated by the state, only four of which were managed by its Office for Technology. “They are called data centers but some of them could be a server room,” Chan said. “There are all kinds of different setups.”
Chan, who holds a Ph.D. in aerospace engineering from the University of Southern California and was chief technologist at GE Infrastructure, says his background has trained him to take a more “holistic approach” to his work with the state.
“There’s a pretty good correlation,” he said. “The nature of the aerospace industry is very high risk. You spend your time developing the discipline and the methodology to help you identify and mitigate some of these risks.”
Those skills will come in handy as the state, joining the ranks of other big government and commercial organizations, places bets on new technologies during a time when seed money for cost-saving projects is scarce and legislators need arm-twisting.
Chan said his strategy is to look for “low hanging fruit,” such as voice over IP, e-mail consolidation and video conferencing. “Those are things we believe can be done pretty quickly, especially with cloud computing capabilities,” he said.
By using the savings from low-cost projects, his office hopes to minimize potential sticker shock legislators might experience from impending infrastructure projects. “We can start by outsourcing some of these basic business functions to the cloud,” Chan said. The resulting savings could then be put into larger projects, such as data center consolidation.
Chan said he believes in open technology approaches – including re-using solutions developed by other states – whenever feasible to avoid unnecessary expenses. The strategy was cemented by the success of myBenefits.ny.gov, a 2008 portal he helped develop as CIO of the state’s Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance. In building the site, his office modeled technology from Wisconsin Access, a benefits website developed by that state.
“We took all the underlying technology and converted it into open-source technology,” Chan said.
Chan sees cloud computing as a technology for supporting re-use of proven applications, especially among state governments. “If you look at some of these federal programs, the rules are very similar from state to state, a portion are almost identical – so why do we need to reinvent these systems so many times?” he asked.
"Because you can stand up an environment so fast, cloud will allow you to experiment with different ideas," he said. "It's a platform that will allow us to be more innovative.'
“One day states will create solutions that we’ll make available nationwide” he said. “We need to demonstrate that technology has the kind of robustness that you need to serve a large population of users. Once you start demonstrating that, you’ll see wider acceptance and start building multistate solutions.”
“Are we ever going to be as innovative as the private sector?” he added. “No. But I think this is a good place for us to start. Business as usual is no longer an option for us.”