04 Oct State CIO wants to unify electronic government
As Wisconsin pushes ahead with its goal of extending electronic government and consolidating its behind-the-scenes information-technology infrastructure, questions remain about how such a massive undertaking can take place given the political realities.
The importance of sharing information and integrating systems has been clear for many years, argues State CIO Matt Miszewski.
What has been missing is the organizational component, says Miszewski, who was hired in February 2003 by Governor Jim Doyle’s administration with a mandate to break down agency silos, integrate services and save money in the process.
In that time, the Wisconsin Department of Administration claims to have saved taxpayers $40 million through various IT initiatives. However, the goal of revolutionizing delivery of services by destroying the barriers to borderless government is in it early stages, and not without its skeptics.
Doyle’s vision of the IT enterprise is that it can’t be focused on state agencies alone, but needs to include all other levels of government that affect citizens, including the University of Wisconsin system.
The direction of enterprise IT in Wisconsin means that, for many systems, agencies will take on the role of facilitators and enablers to assist local governments in their role as direct service providers, Miszewski says.
If local governments are the direct point of contact for offering a particular service, then state IT systems must be built around that relationship, he says. Integration middleware can link disparate systems with great security and less cost, he adds.
“Because of 9/11, no government IT professional will ever again be able to say that the technology or the political obstacles or the human resources challenges will not allow us to destroy intergovernmental barriers,” Miszewski recently told a group of IT professionals assembled at a technology conference hosted by Paragon Development Systems.
“All of those hurdles must be overcome,” he said. “We no longer have the luxury of building or fortifying the walls that divide us.”
One way the state DOA is trying to save money is by integrating hardware and software contracts. While it may be possible to achieve some savings by doing this, and by combining and running servers from a central location, the real payoff will come from combining business processes — which is a much more complicated proposition, says Ed Meachen, associate vice president for learning and information technology at UW System Administration.
“Maybe we can combine business processes, but when I look at the university’s business and I look at the state’s business, there is little or no overlap,” he said. “For example, our HR system has many types of employees that nobody in the state has. We are not like any other state agency, so you have to wonder what other state agencies are like. How is the prison system like the DNR?”
The UW system is looking at combining some of its business processes, such as enrolling students across the state under the same system for efficiency’s sake.
“For us, we can’t say to our campuses across the state `You must do this,’” Meachen says. “It will take us a while. … It will take years. I know that in state government, they have to act a lot faster. I also know that when someone comes in and says ‘You will do this, and you will do that,’ then that’s a tough row to hoe. There tends to be resistance.”
At the same time, Meachen says he believes strongly in moving away from the smokestack-style IT operation.
“It takes time to make massive changes from these silos to a centralized model,” he says. “The question is, how much does it cost to do it, what is the return on investment, and how long will it take?”
Frank Ace, CIO for the Wisconsin Department of Justice, is partnering with the DOA to create the most secure data and communications center in the state. The two departments are working together to make this concept of a highly secure, highly available data center available to other state agencies as needed.
“I think the goal that Matt has stated to use IT to break down the barriers between the different silos is a good goal,” Ace says. “You can certainly use IT to do that. It is one of many tools available to attack the problem.”
While server consolidation holds promise, it is an incredibly complex and massive undertaking, Ace says, and one that requires a change in business culture as much as anything else.
“I think there are several levels of resistance, including a resistance to change, in general,” he says. “There is a hesitancy to lose control of something that many of the lines of business within the state see as critical to their success.”
Making the change will likely require a combination of brute force and a compelling business case, says Ken Ebbe, director of UW Systems and State Services Division of Information Technology.
“What is often missing is the cost to the business unit or agency to undertake the effort, and then there is concern about what the end result will be,” Ebbe says. “It’s a problem that we wrestle with. The way we do it is by building a benefits case and convincing people to do it.”
In these times of tight budgets, Ace says, there is also fear of spending more money than is available or necessary.
“You’ve got political realities that are challenging to that goal — the crunching of the budget, and the hesitancy to invest for a long-term payback,” Ace says. “So, it’s tough to put together a good project plan of this size with all of those constraints.
“It is clearly the biggest challenge that state IT has ever faced. It’s a very fluid and dynamic process, and I think that people are going to have to accept lots of changes along the way.”