Florida loses sight of enterprise vision
Florida has abolished an independent state technology office in a move that reverses steps it took four years ago to centralize IT management.
The legislature wanted to abolish entirely the office and its functions, but Gov. Jeb Bush (R) vetoed that bill. Instead, the legislature approved funding to make the office a new division in the Florida Department of Management Services.
The position of chief information officer as well as companion IT policy functions, however, were eliminated.
The Florida Technology Office, which was responsible for establishing a cohesive approach to technology across the state's executive branch, had its share of turmoil during its short lifespan. The office had three CIOs in four years, came under fierce criticism from the state auditor for its contract administration practices and met entrenched resistance from state agencies.
"Clearly, the state technology office had some major challenges and missed opportunities," said John Kost, managing vice president of worldwide public sector research at IT research and consulting firm Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn.
The IT support functions for agencies in the technology office will move to the Florida Department of Management Services and be incorporated into a new Division of Enterprise Information Technology Services.
Lawmakers will continue to fund 156 IT services positions that are being transferred to the new division, but no longer will fund any strategic planning functions associated with the former technology office, including the CIO job.
The legislature's decision to scrap the agency rather than overhaul it mirrored a similar move in 2002 by California lawmakers who abolished the state's Department of Information Technology following exposure of questionable contract award processes.
Bush had taken steps earlier this year to reorganize the technology office and reform its operations after a failed attempt to outsource IT infrastructure services and support in 2003. In January, Bush proposed moving the services and support functions to the Department of Management Services as part of the fiscal 2005-06 budget proposal, said Simone Marstiller, Florida's former state CIO.
"Moving the services over to the Department of Management Services was always part of the governor's plan, and the legislature did decide to provide for that in the state budget for next year," she said. "It's the remaining functions that are not funded for the coming fiscal year."
RESISTANCE TO CHANGE
In his veto letter responding to S.B. 1494, Bush wrote that legislative dissatisfaction with the technology office did not justify eliminating it. He said the technology office had worked to build a consensus for enterprise IT governance, and was a sound model for providing IT services to government entities.
Through no fault of its own, the agency's efforts had been slow to gain acceptance, Bush said.
"Our environment is naturally resistant to change," he wrote. "Agencies struggle for control of their resources, and attempts to centrally manage systems and resources often incite posturing by agencies to avoid losing valuable resources. The state technology office has worked hard to overcome these challenges by working as a partner in IT-related matters."
Bush established the technology office in 2001 as a centralized organization responsible for setting statewide IT policy.
The agency's work became a focal point of national attention in August 2003 when it awarded large IT outsourcing contracts to Accenture Ltd. and BearingPoint Inc. Those contracts were canceled the following year for reasons that remain somewhat obscure, but can be tied partly to a scathing report by the state auditor that criticized the contract administration.
The outsourcing deals were awarded by former Florida CIO Kim Bahrami, who subsequently resigned in February 2004. In a move that raised more than a few eyebrows around the state, Bahrami went to work in BearingPoint's health care practice four months after she quit as CIO.
Marstiller, who took over four months later, terminated both contractors' outsourcing projects before the end of the year.
Gartner's Kost said the value such a centralized IT office holds for the executive branch revolves around its ability to get state government to begin thinking as an enterprise.
"Any time such a culture changes, there will be huge resistance, not unlike white blood cells attacking a germ invading a body," Kost said.
In that kind of climate, it is even more important that a centralized leadership exhibit exceptional quality, planning and other resources to overcome the criticisms and gain the confidence of others, he said.
But if the state technology office had not worked to challenge the status quo and gain some efficiencies on behalf of Florida taxpayers, "other more expensive problems certainly would have occurred," he said.
RETURN OF THE SILOS
The new division will be headed by Julie Madden, former chief technology officer for the state technology office, said Jennifer Fennell, a Department of Management Services spokeswoman. Madden will coordinate telecommunications, wireless and information service for state agencies and local governments in Florida.
Marstiller plans to take time off before considering her next career move. She said she made the best effort possible to develop working relationships with state agencies on IT matters.
"I feel like I came in and moved the ball a little bit closer to the goal line [which was] the governor's overall vision," she said. "I didn't come in with any huge plans. I just wanted to keep the good works going."
Kost said having some of the state technology office's responsibilities absorbed by the Department of Management Services will not make the problems go away, but may make them less easy to spot and give them even less management attention.
Allowing departments to revert to the silo approach to IT management that existed before the state technology office was created will undermine the enterprise thinking the governor and legislature attempted to instill, he said.
"Unless the leaders of Florida state government come to some understanding about their respective roles, this fight between the leaders might well have the effect of actually slowing the progress that Florida has made in embracing technology to improve the quality of services to its citizens," Kost said.
Marstiller said she received sufficient support in her year on the job from both the governor's office and the state legislature. Of the move to abolish the Florida Technology Office, she said: "The legislature may have wanted to take a step back and figure how to re-organize [the office] or how best to approach IT management for Florida."
She said she is hopeful that the two branches of government someday will return to an enterprise approach to technology.
"I don't believe that the concept of enterprise management of IT resources and IT governance [in Florida] is a dead concept at all," she said.
Deputy Editor William Welsh can be reached at email@example.com.