17 Oct State technology chief says some best practices are limited by statute
Madison, Wis. – If Oskar Anderson is ready to face the music, he might remind lawmakers that when it comes to fixing information technology problems in state government, it takes two to tango.
Anderson, who took over for the controversial Matt Miszewski earlier this year, is set to appear Thursday before the before the Legislature’s Joint Audit Committee as it reviews a report critical of past state IT practices.
Anderson serves as the state’s chief information officer in the Division of Enterprise Technology, and he has launched an internal website where state agencies can trade information about best practices, but that might not be enough to spare the state from further embarrassment.
That’s because there are some best practices that would be off limits in the current legal environment. “Our business largely is driven by state statutes,” Anderson said. “We can’t adopt certain best practice advice without a change in state statutes.”
He cited an example of where state statutes might preclude the DET, which is part of the Department of Administration, from adopting best practices. For example, there are statutory limitations on how data is managed, including which data points can be shared and how data is archived and retained.
Anderson said these limitations impact operations in terms of the amount of disc space used for storing historical and other data. “With some electronic records, we need to restrict access among different sets of data that we may otherwise want to share directly,” he said, “and we can’t because of the fact there are statutory requirements that say some data can be shared directly and some cannot.”
At your servers
The seemingly endless litany of costly or delayed state information technology projects was the subject of a highly critical state audit, which cited a lack of oversight on various high-risk IT implementations.
The audit directed Anderson to comment on recommendations for agencies responsible for seven large projects cited in the audit report. In turn, Anderson has called for new processes, annual strategic planning, and planning standards for large, high-risk IT projects.
One question that could come up at the Audit Committee hearing pertains to the fallout from an overly optimistic server consolidation project. Instead of the millions of dollars of savings it was supposed to produce, state agencies will be devoting a portion of their annual budgets – for the next 20 years – to pay for the project.
According to Anderson’s report, the state likely will spend an estimated $65 million on the server project by June of next year, which is about five times the original cost estimate and wipes out the projected savings over a five-year period.
Anderson said the project consultant’s report underestimated the effort that would be required to “rationalize” a number of applications, which caused them to estimate the job could be done much more quickly than it actually can. Some of the applications aren’t easy to run together, and they use up extra cycles on the machine, so the original time frame was not realistic.
“As soon as you extend the time frame on a project, you increase the costs,” he noted.
Anderson believes one of the recommendations in his report, titled “A New Approach to Information Technology Management, could have avoided what transpired. One of the practices he would like to implement is a sort of peer-review oversight of all projects, where a group of professional peers look in on projects and their collective IT experience is applied.
“At specific checkpoints and specific time frames, a group of peers would come in and evaluate whether the project is doing what it should be doing, and moving at the pace that it should be moving, and then report back out,” he said. “I think that can save us some problems on virtually any project, since you’re timing that second opinion.”
Anderson led a contingent of state workers to the recent Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2007 in Orlando. He and other CIOs from across the nation were encouraged to focus less on routine information technology and think more about how they can leverage technology to enable business growth and improve the customer experience.
Given its fiscal limitations, some in state government don’t think they are in a position to think much beyond working on legacy applications and routine things, according to Vinnie Thousand of the Department of Workforce Development. “It’s tough for us to set those [strategic projects] up when we have more immediate priorities,” she said. “”We’re not done with the routine stuff.”
Anderson sees a way to mitigate the server meltdown, noting that a move to virtualization could eventually recapture some savings that were hoped for in server consolidation. He said virtualization is something the technology industry is going to experience because it’s a newer method of enabling applications to better share resources. The state will need to keep track of what the industry is doing because virtualization still is evolving quickly.
“I think several agencies have experimented with some type of virtualization, and we’ll want to continue to look at that as a method of being able to use those unused cycles on severs,” Anderson said.
“I think that’s a better bet that we’ll be able to do it [recapture savings] through virtualization than we will by having applications clustered together on the same [physical] servers.”
• State technology chief endorses new approach to IT management
• Technology audit rips poor planning and oversight
• Is the worst over for state technology failures?
• State of Wisconsin dumps another tech project
• Oskar Anderson to succeed Miszewski as head of state technology division