Time to take stock

Thomas R. Temin

The fiscal realities that have hit so many technology companies are coming home to roost for state budgets. As Wilson P. Dizard III reports on Page 1, figures compiled by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers show that 30 states are experiencing budget shortfalls going into fiscal 2002.

And, not surprisingly, that shortfall is negatively affecting information technology budgets. Some states are putting new projects on hold. In Iowa, for instance, the spread of electronic government is going to have to wait.

This is no time to be squandering money.

For the past several years, most states' revenues have risen steadily, fueled by record economic growth. Investments required for online government and integrated systems seemed within easy grasp.

Now lawmakers will question everything. That's why it is especially important to get your house in order. Specifically, ask yourself and those who report to you three questions:

  • Are we getting the best prices from suppliers? Consider taking a page from manufacturing companies. When times get tough, they often ask suppliers to help out by lowering prices or extending terms.

  • Are high-visibility projects on schedule? Can we justify or at least explain schedule or budget overruns? You don't want to be in the same position as officials in Arkansas, where a $40 million statewide accounting system is in trouble and $10 million over budget, according to reports.

  • Are we putting our money where we'll get the most return? Statewide enterprise resource planning systems sound great, but such projects can eat up time and money going forward and often take years to show a benefit.

    When it comes to such efforts, a funding slowdown can amplify implementation problems because it further slows the projects. The longer the time line, the greater the risk of your staff becoming bored or the legislature pouncing.

    Use these tight budget times to take inventory of your activities, reset priorities and clear out unnecessary or underperforming projects.

    Thomas R. Temin

    Editorial director

    E-mail: [email protected]
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