The IT consolidation challenge: Meeting agency expectations

NASCIO panel lays out the challenges for states putting services under one roof

 States embarking on consolidation initiatives need to get a handle on how much their agencies are spending on IT and then establish baselines for the services they will deliver – two things easier said than done, according to CIOs at the National Association of State CIOs Mid-Year conference on May 5.

Determining how much agencies are spending on IT is difficult because state agencies do not line-item IT activities, said Utah CIO Steve Fletcher, who moderated a panel on IT consolidation at the NASCIO conference held in Washington.

“It’s a huge process to capture that information,” Fletcher said.

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Another challenge: Agency managers expect the same level of service they were getting before consolidation. But they cannot really quantify what type of service they are getting. “So you have to quantify what level of services you are providing,” Fletcher said.

“IT goes down all the time; it’s the nature of the beast,” he said. But as soon as that happens in a centralized environment, the IT department providing the services will be blamed and the agencies will want to take back control of their systems.

“You have to know the baseline and how much does [IT] cost and how much service you are providing,” Fletcher said. “That is a real good set of information to have if you are going to transform the organization.” But often the CIO does not have that information, he added.

Utah completed a comprehensive, multiyear data center consolidation project last summer, reducing 35 data centers to two state-of-the art facilities. The move allows the state to reduce IT expenses and operate more efficiently. It also paves the way for offering cloud services to state agencies and smaller cities and counties.

Fletcher asked members of the panel – IT executives of Alabama, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Tennessee – what advice would they give other state IT managers who are involved in IT consolidation projects.

“Make sure you are engaging the business side of the house,” not just IT, said Stuart Davis, CIO and assistant director of the Department of Administrative Services/Office of Information Technology for Ohio. Too often, there are turf and political battles going on in IT but business is only interested in increasing communications capabilities and focusing on their missions, he said.

Ohio has made several efforts to consolidate e-mail over the past six years. The state has 29 different e-mail systems, more than 68,000 e-mail accounts on the three major platforms – Microsoft Exchange, IBM’s Lotus Notes and Novell’s Groupwise

The Office of Information Technology has been offering e-mail to 14,000 users for some time. Fiscal 2012-2013 budget guidance requires agencies to move to a single platform for e-mail within two years. OIT has adopted a hybrid approach wherein top officials such as the governor’s e-mail is on premise and others are in the cloud.

“Benchmarking is key,” said Dan Lorhmann, Michigan's chief technology officer. “For us in Michigan everything was based on people not on services.” That was the wrong way to measure how they provided services, he noted.

“Know where you are at today and how are you measuring, is it measuring by people or [service-level agreements,” he said. Michigan provides storage as a service through and recently began to offer infrastructure-as-a-service via the state’s MiCloud.

"You have to have well-thought out plan of action that includes benchmarks,” said George White, CIO of Pennsylvania. States will be struggling with tight budgets for some time, so CIOs don’t need to be investing resource duplication, he added.

“If you can’t measure what you do [users] will hold that against you,” said, Mark Bengel, CIO of Tennessee, citing the need for service-level agreements. Additionally, he suggested taking a measured approach, not biting off too much during the initial stages of consolidation.

Remember that its not just about technology, but also people, said Jack Doane, CIO of Alabama. Some of the most unyielding agencies to change are those that get federal dollars, he said. Some of the technical specifications for agencies’ systems are driven by the federal government to work with their systems, he noted.

As a result, Doane is dealing with multiple middleware solutions within the various agencies.

“Somehow we have to get these requirements where they go across the board and [agencies] are able to interoperate and share," Doane said. "That will allow the state to do a better job of providing centralized services."

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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