10 May Embattled state CIO stands his ground
Madison, Wis. – Matt Miszewski rubs some people the wrong way, but he believes friction sometimes comes with the turf. Governor Jim Doyle hired Miszewski as the state’s CIO in 2003 to bring greater efficiency to the state’s information technology enterprise, and he certainly expected some bumps and detours along the way.
But given the expensive snags that some large-scale IT projects have encountered, some believe promised savings – a moving target now pegged at $9 million annually – will never materialize and that taxpayers are being taken for a ride.
The latest shoe to drop is the University of Wisconsin System’s likely jettisoning of new payroll software after spending a cool $26 million on the project, which has led to calls for more effective legislative oversight of state IT contracts. Prior to that, the cost overruns and implementation delays that have frustrated large IT projects in several state agencies already had cost millions of taxpayer dollars that cannot be recouped. That prompted the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to authorize an audit into IT purchases – an audit that, conveniently, will not be completed during this election cycle.
Many lay the state’s problems at the feet of Miszewski, a 1995 graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Law School who started his own IT consulting company, Topical Networks, and focused on labor law in private practice. One year ago, he was hailed by Government Technology magazine as one of its 25 “Doers, Dreamers, and Drivers.” Today, some state employees characterize Miszewski as arrogant, egotistical, and worst of all in their minds, inexperienced at the same time.
“He wants to be able to make everything happen, but he doesn’t have the experience to make a good judgment on whether it’s realistic or not,” said one state employee who did not want to be identified. “He loves an audience. He loves to get up and talk about things that have happened in the past tenses that haven’t even begun yet. It’s just a combination of someone who did not have the experience to make key decisions in a project, any project this large.”
Still, Miszewski plows ahead with IT consolidation, predicting that complete agency migration will occur by July of 2007 “unless something changes.” Doyle, who in recent days has acknowledged the spotty track record of IT projects, has thus far stuck with him in an election year.
In a recent interview, WTN Media discussed with Miszewski “the state of state IT.”
WTN: There has been some talk about the need for more legislative oversight on IT contracts and projects. In your estimation, is that necessary?
Miszewski: In terms of enterprise-wide, large-scale projects, we certainly have to entertain a discussion of how we can do a better job at the state of Wisconsin in managing those significant assets. And I am very open to it. In fact, I testified in front of Joint Audit [Committee] that I am very open to discussing better ways to manage the enterprise portfolio of applications.
WTN: How much of the criticism of you can be attributed to the natural bureaucratic resistance to change?
Miszewski: I don’t know that I can characterize how much of it is [due to] that. It certainly does have a role in all of the large projects that we plan, but the experience that I’ve had over the three-plus years that I’ve been in this role is that it is easier to just chalk things up to bureaucratic resistance. It is much harder to work together with our agency partners and our customers to come to solutions that bypass that resistance, and that’s what we try to do.
Unfortunately, every once in a while when you are trying to bypass some of that resistance, the length of projects sometimes takes longer than you originally anticipated. And we’ve run into that a few times where we’re actually trying to make sure that we take into account all our customer’s needs. That simply takes longer than we expected.
WTN: How much of it is personality conflicts? When we’ve asked people about your management style, they acknowledge that you’re a very smart guy, but they also say you’re kind of arrogant and hard to work with. Do you view your role as kind of a ramrod?
Miszewski: I certainly have some large-scale challenges, and there are two things you need to do to make those things happen. One is to try to build as many bridges as you can to make sure that folks understand the vision that you’re driving for; try to get as much buy-in as you can in that process, and work directly with your customer base to make that happen. And when all else fails, you need to lead, and there have been occasions where I have needed to lead the enterprise, and I don’t shy away from that.
WTN: Do you now agree with critics who say the project was overly ambitious with regard to its timetable, given all the complexities of a project like this and given what has transpired?
Miszewski: It is an ambitious project. Other states have done it in a similar time frame. You can find cases on a more aggressive time frame. And, certainly, when you’re starting to build the project, you don’t know all the intricacies that you find out as the project moves on. So certainly the complexity was more than we anticipated when we started, but now we think we’ve got a pretty good handle on it.