CIO OUTLOOK

Y2K legacy is configuration management

Mike Hale

Last month, during a postmortem briefing to journalists at the National Press Club in Washington, year 2000 czar John Koskinen made wrap-up observations based on his bird's-eye view.

Two of his comments I expected, but the third came as a complete surprise, given the makeup of the audience.

Koskinen, chairman of the President's Council on the Year 2000 Conversion, first mentioned the critical'if obvious and often repeated'importance of executive involvement in projects such as the date code effort. He then reiterated that industry and government have a growing dependence on information technology. No news there.

Then he stated a third lesson learned, which must have sounded strange to a media audience because of its arcane and technical nature. Koskinen said the 2000 effort illustrated the importance of configuration management.

The typical person, worried about the collapse of the financial system or about gasoline shortages, probably was not thinking about configuration management. But the subject had obviously made a big impact on Koskinen during his two years coordinating the year 2000 effort. And, the more I think about it, the more I agree with his conclusion.

During 2000 readiness efforts, many organizations had difficulty keeping up with systems configuration as they fixed, upgraded and tested code. The difficulties contributed to delays and uncertainties, and they drove up costs.

Few IT organizations have the luxury of standardizing on a limited suite of products and from a specific set of vendors. Most face the task of managing multivendor, multiproduct and multiversion environments.

Now add to this the need to manage the configuration of each system, and you have more than a full-time job. Unfortunately, many organizations were found wanting, as Koskinen and many others discovered.

In the years ahead, it's safe to say that agencies' systems environments will become even more complex. Moving to multitier client-server architectures, adding interactive Web-delivered applications and increasing security will all add to the configuration management challenge.

Here's what I think will happen in the next 12 to 18 months:

•'Agencies will narrow their technology standards to better accommodate maintenance and configuration management of critical systems. And they'll tighten their policy and technical disciplines for maintaining and inventorying systems.

•'Agencies will deploy strict end-user policies'and supporting software tools'to enforce precise configuration information at the desktop and server levels.

•'IT organizations will loosen their dependency on individual experts and move to a systems knowledge repository accessible to all users. IT managers will become more proficient at making a business case for investments in this type of technology.

IT managers should welcome the emphasis on configuration management. Program managers will see it as a cultural change. Imposing the disciplines needed to uphold enterprise standards will be a significant new endeavor.

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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