Washington state fine-tunes its portfolio machine

The state of Washington is ahead of the game in portfolio management.

In January 1998, the state's Information Services Board adopted a portfolio model for the management of IT resources, approving a body of portfolio management policies, standards and guidelines developed with the Information Services Department's Customer Advisory Board.

'We wanted a more business-driven approach to IT,' said Roy Lum, deputy director for management and oversight of strategic technology in the department. 'In so many technology organizations, there's technology for technology's sake. There isn't always a clear tieback to business goals and objectives.'

Also noticeably absent was a way for executives in the state's agencies to measure and clearly define IT success.

Because the portfolio approach in Washington envisioned an expanded role for agency business and IT managers in the planning process, an initial step in the program was educating managers on its value.

'A lot of technologists don't have a well-developed framework for making decisions,' Lum said. 'It was very much an education process on the value of having a portfolio and how it helps you make better decisions.'

A next step was a thorough inventory of the state's IT assets. Before adopting portfolio management, 'we couldn't tell you in any great detail what systems we had other than the most important systems,' Lum said. 'Today, with the portfolio management system we employ, we can tell you down to considerable detail.'

Adopting a portfolio approach is more important than ever, Lum said. 'We've got a deficit like many other states,' he said. 'You've got limited money to spend. You've got to sit down and look to see where you can most effectively spend that money and get the greatest return to help your business customers.'

The state's guidelines, available at www.wa.gov/portfolio, mandate that agencies create portfolios that contain information in a variety of formats'including descriptive overviews, inventory lists, organization charts and spreadsheets:
  • Mission, strategies, programs and business processes

  • Installed hardware, software, networks and physical facilities

  • Technical management and staff capabilities

  • Applications that support agency programs and business processes

  • Partnerships and interfaces with other organizations

  • Current and planned projects

  • Costs and benefits of current and planned investments

  • Problems and opportunities involving IT.

Washington's initiative may be far along, but it's still an ongoing process. Lum noted, for example, that the Information Systems Department is catching up on wireless assets.

'We're ahead of most but we still have a lot of work to do,' Lum added.

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