CIO OUTLOOK

No joke: IT shops show their Y2K mettle

Mike Hale

While driving to the office recently, I was listening to a radio talk show host who was giving a series of one-liners. Most were not worth remembering until he said, 'What do an old shotgun and a government worker have in common? Answer: They both are hard to get to work, and you can't fire them.'

Well, hearing that got my goat. Staff members in my office had just successfully completed a series of comprehensive year 2000 test procedures for a portion of Georgia's integrated tax systems. State employees had spent nearly 24 hours a day at their terminals, working out complex systems problems. In fact, such work has been common over the past two years because the state cannot accept any second-best 2000 results.

The precision, quality and thoroughness of Georgia's year 2000 work force matches that of the Coca-Cola Co., Ford Motor Co. or any other major corporation. The undertaking required a degree of project management, disciplined testing, change control and documentation unprecedented in the history of government data processing.

The image of government service has been a topic of special interest to me in my military and state government careers. Normally, government workers' contributions go unacknowledged until some highly visible event or crisis highlights their special skills and dedication. Most government workers have strong desires to serve and to provide.

I continually see situations in which employees find new methods for enhancing service to the citizen through technology, and they are proud of their contributions. They do it for the satisfaction of doing the public's work.

The paradox is that while government workers harbor the desire to make government work, systems shops are typically underfunded and operate more in a catch-up mode than the proactive mode of private-sector shops. In successful companies, you'll find the most current versions of software, tools and procedures with rapid delivery to production. Too often in government, maintaining systems consumes too much time, and development cycles for new systems takes too long.

Still, the successes of last two years prove that governments can turn around and maintain top standards of quality and productivity. Georgia is winding down the biggest one-time infusion of advanced technology into state government in its history, resulting in a modernized infrastructure. The effort has captured the attention of agency managers who now see the advantages of better tools and methods'and a commitment to quality that can only have a positive affect on the public's perception.

Georgia information technology workers have written new applications to high quality standards and done it quickly. Recently, one of Georgia's most successful departmental IT directors commented that workers now insist on maintaining these IT quality standards.

Year 2000 readiness has been a visible public act that's tested government workers' abilities to show results. Many people will weigh in with postmortem commentary on the effects of 2000, and when they do, one conclusion will be that government workers' date code repair has been a real standout.

That day will come a lot sooner than the day I can drive to work without getting apoplectic over stupid one-liners.

Mike Hale is chief information officer of Georgia. He previously was executive director of Florida's Information Resource Commission, and he is a retired Army colonel. His
e-mail address is mhale@itpc.state.ga.us.

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