26 Nov UW System CIO criticizes IT requirements in state budget
Madison, Wis. – One man’s air-tight business can be another man’s pain in the neck, and new IT reporting requirements contained in the recently enacted 2007-09 state budget are giving Ed Meachen a shooting pain.
Meachen, associate vice president of learning and information technology for the University of Wisconsin System, is calling on lawmakers to remove provisions in the state budget that impose, in his words, layer after layer of requirements “just to move in any direction with major projects.”
His comments were dismissed by State Representative Phil Montgomery, R-Green Bay, who cited the UW System’s failed Lawson software implementation as a justification for the new requirements.
Meachen, however, said the provisions add no value but increase project risk in terms of time and money. “These are draconian reporting requirements that cannot have any value as a preventive or oversight function,” he said.
Accountability or bureaucracy run amok?
Meachen acknowledged that the lawmakers are seeking to prevent the kind of information technology problems outlined in an April 2007 Legislative Audit Bureau report, but said they are going about it the wrong way.
He took aim at requirements to provide lawmakers with annual strategic plans for each of the 26 campuses, which he dismissed as a way to create a huge paper trial “for every last thing that’s done.”
As part of the budget, the UW Board of Regents is to require the system and each institution and college campus to submit to the board by March 1 of each year a strategic plan for the utilization of information technology for the succeeding fiscal year. The campuses would be required to address their business needs and identify all IT projects that serve those needs, the justification for each project, and the anticipated benefits.
The Regents then would have to notify the UW system by June 1 of any concerns regarding the strategic plan, and make recommendations. The board also is required submit its concerns to the information technology management board, which would be free to make recommendations on the project, and the Regents would have until June 15 to accept or reject the strategic plan in whole or in part.
On projects exceeding $1 million or that are vital to the functions of the UW System or institutions or campuses, the Regents are to develop a standard reporting format and administrative rules that define high-risk projects. They also are required to standardize performance measures and develop procedures for project monitoring, a formal process for modifying projects, and methods for discontinuing projects.
Other reporting requirements direct the UW System (to do the following:
• Submit to the governor and members of the Joint Committee on Information Policy and Technology an annual report on use of the state master lease program, by the system and each campus, to fund IT projects in the previous fiscal year. The report is to be submitted by Oct. 1.
• Submit quarterly reports on open-ended IT contracts, or those that don’t specify a maximum payment amount, documenting the amount spent.
• Submit to the Joint Committee a comprehensive report documenting each IT project with an actual or projected cost of more than $1 million, or that the board has identified as high risk. Among other data, this report is to include original and updated project cost projections (and explanations for any variations between original and updated costs), completion dates for various stages, and the amount of any funding provided for the project under a master lease.
Meachen said these provisions are unnecessary because the UW System has addressed the risk factors identified in the Legislative audit report and the system’s own auditors.
He also said the groups selected in the budget to provide IT oversight “have no idea” about information technology or function areas of IT projects, and are “extremely dependent on the narrative we provide.”
“No way does that paper trail ensure that projects will be carried out successfully,” he added.
By enacting these requirements, the legislature and the governor added the work of at least a half-time person “that we don’t have and that we don’t have the money for,” he said.
Meachen believes higher education and taxpayers alike would be better off if the Legislature sticks to upgrades suggested by the Audit Bureau, including the addition of managers with actual project management skills and experience, and outside audits of projects at least once a year – twice a year for higher-risk, high-profile projects.
Montgomery, a member of an Assembly task force on IT failures, does not believe the budget provisions are onerous. He noted that the Lawson project, which involved the installation of software for human resources and payroll, cost the state $26 million, and that the UW System still is funded “to the tune” of $1 billion annually.
“As an IT director, you can’t give me an executive overview of a project’s status on a yearly basis? Come on,” Montgomery said.
Meachen said the budget requirements follow recommendations of the Assembly Speaker’s task force, which included Assembly Republicans and members of the private sector.
Montgomery said the Task Force, which also has recommended a state information technology czar, would continue to work with the Legislative Audit Committee and the Department of Administration on oversight of IT projects.
But after numerous project delays and cost overruns in taxpayer-funded IT projects, Montgomery doubts the Legislature would be compelled to remove the new requirements.
• State technology chief endorses new approach to IT management
• UW System says goodbye to Lawson after 5 years, $26 million