09 Mar Is the worst over for state technology failures?
Madison, Wis. – State Senator Robert Cowles admitted his crystal ball may be a little cloudy, but he hopes the worst news about the state of Wisconsin’s information technology woes may have already trickled out in anticipation of the Legislative Audit Bureau’s pending report.
Ted Kanavas, his Senate colleague and a software executive, isn`t sure the worst news is behind us.
What they both agree on is that the audit on state IT projects should be a catalyst for change.
Cowles, a Republican from Green Bay, expects the audit report to be released early in April. He would like to see a series of recommendations that will help lawmakers “tighten down” on the waste of taxpayer money that has occurred in recent years.
“We need to go in there and save some of the money that has been squandered,” he said.
Cowles noted that several major projects have been halted since the audit was announced last year, including the scrapping of an Oracle-based e-mail implementation, a Lawson software program for University of Wisconsin System payroll and benefits, and an automated system that was supposed to help the Department of Workforce Development track unemployment claims.
These projects combined have cost the state more than $50 million, but other technology issues remain. The most recent IT shoe to drop involves an IT server consolidation project. A recent report in the Wisconsin State Journal cited delays in the project, which has consumed $35 million thus far, and indicated that only a few servers have been relocated to a new Madison data center.
While Cowles said this project is different than IT implementations that have completely gone bust, he is reluctant to continue to spend $18 million per year on the project – which is called for in the 2007-09 budget – when so much money has been wasted elsewhere.
The server consolidation project was supposed to save money and enhance security, but there now are doubts about whether it will pay for itself.
“I would not want to approve something without more specifics,” Cowles said.
Cowles, a member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, said if a piece of software is clearly not going to work, he would not criticize a state agency for throwing it out, particularly at an earlier stage of implementation.
He also offered a bipartisan olive branch when it comes to how the Legislature views future IT spending, noting that most of the failed projects began before Gov. Jim Doyle took office.
Build versus buy
For meaningful corrections to ensue, Kanavas said the state has to take a hard look at processes, and it should focus reforms on a more disciplined approach to project rollouts and a new approach to “build versus buy.”
Kanavas, a Republican from Brookfield, said he doesn’t know why the state feels compelled to start from scratch and go through extensive software modifications, which also require extensive modifications to business processes.
“The issue is not who performs the work, but how the work is being performed,” he said. “We should be buying packaged software wherever practical, and making only minor modifications.”
Oskar Anderson, who recently took over as head of the Division of Enterprise Technology, could not be reached for comment.
• State of Wisconsin dumps another tech project
• Oskar Anderson to succeed Miszewski as head of state technology division
• UW System says goodbye to Lawson after 5 years, $26 million
• State alters schedule for server consolidation