New York Maps First Strategic Infotech Plan
The Empire State hopes better communication between agencies will make infotech investments more effective
P> Imagine being in charge of more than 35 work groups designed to improve a state's acquisition and management of information technology. It doesn't sound very efficient, but New York's Cameron Thomas swears it's the most effective way to bring about change. However, she admits that they are "an administrative nightmare."
Thomas is one of the authors of New York's year-old procurement legislation and is the administrative director of the Governor's Task Force on Information Resources Management. She has held various financial management positions since she joined the state 14 years ago. She reports to Director of State Operations James Natoli and coordinates the work of the task force.
Improving the state's use of information technology is no easy task. In fact, Thomas often finds herself in the office by 7 a.m. and usually doesn't leave until 7:30 p.m. Yet this high-energy woman definitely likes the challenge of improving state practices.
New York, which some estimates show as having the third largest state information technology budget, recently went through a series of changes to overhaul the state's information technology policies. Thomas discusses these changes with WT.
WT: New York has neither a CIO nor an Information Resources Management Commission. Who has oversight for state IT procurements?
THOMAS: Procurement in New York is a twofold task. The Office of General Services has a Services and Technology unit that is responsible for contracts that state agencies can buy from. Agencies also have the authority to do requests for proposals or invitations for bid for technology or systems improvement.
George Pataki is the first governor of New York who wants to develop a statewide technology policy. To do this he has set up a task force on information resources management. It's just over a month old and is made up of a group of IT professionals who are in charge of setting a statewide technology agenda.
WT: How has the state suffered from the lack of a central IT policy?
THOMAS: State agencies have developed very capable internal operations, but have not made that next step toward multiagency initiatives. The task force's role is to draw that out. If one state agency has a real expertise in a given area, we'll help transfer that to another state agency. Likewise, if two agencies are working on an emerging technology, maybe they can do it together.
WT: Do you expect your contracts to decrease as interagency sharing of employees increases?
THOMAS: I'm not sure that the contracts will decrease. I think the contracts will be oriented toward new technology.
How we use consultants has always been an issue. We'll probably continue to use consultants in those areas where we might not have the in-house expertise.
But we'd also like to recognize how far a lot of state agencies have come in some technology areas and make staff available either as a loaned executive or to train others. They could be similar to a SWAT team that helps set up new systems and then returns control when the problem is solved.
WT: What are the task force's primary goals?
THOMAS: There are three. Our first goal is to help state agencies save money. Our second goal is to promote interagency data exchange. And the third is to foster increased citizen and business access to government.
WT: There has been a lot of interest in procurement reform. Are there efforts to change the way the state buys goods and services?
THOMAS: The state legislature passed a new procurement law last year that completely changed procedures that, for the most part, had been in place since 1909. The procurement law allows the purchase of services, which includes technology on a best-value basis, so we're no longer buying technology on the basis of lowest price.
WT: Which areas do you see growing in terms of IT procurements?
THOMAS: We are in the process of modernizing our welfare systems. We've got a managed care initiative in our health-care industry. Social services, fraud detection, criminal justice - those are key areas.
WT: What is the status of the systems in different agencies? Will they need upgrades soon?
THOMAS: I think it will probably be a gradual process. We're looking at [how] to create a productivity bank, which would bank savings on a year-to-year basis and either seed new initiatives or help foster technology upgrades. We've got agencies all over the map. Some are very advanced and technologically impressive; others are far behind.
WT: How are projects currently funded?
THOMAS: It's primarily through agency appropriation. The productivity bank would be for special identified savings that the task force created, and the hope is to seed new initiatives and help smaller agencies who simply don't have the money. We will continue to use appropriations as well as other sources, such as federal money, to ensure that large system improvements happen. It's a tough area right now, given our proposed tax cuts and the real need to keep improving.
WT: What is the state's actual IT budget?
THOMAS: Our numbers are not good because we're so decentralized, and I wouldn't quote them. I know the Office of General Services is doing a benchmark so we have some information about IT cost.
WT: Aside from the tax cut and procurement reform, are there any other pieces of legislation that would affect information technology purchases?
THOMAS: We will have to do a major package of legislative and regulatory reform in areas that [affect] technology. We're very concerned about privacy and confidentiality, but there are old laws on the books that impede progress. For example, the procurement law used the term "sealed bid." That inhibits using fax machines or electronic data interchange. Sealed is licked and stamped. So we changed it to secure.
WT: What advice would you give vendors who want to do business with the state?
THOMAS: It's always important to understand the state contract process. We have the Contract Reporter, which is a vehicle for publicizing requests for proposals over $5,000. We're attempting to get the Contract Reporter on-line. Vendors also should be familiar with the new law, which is Article 11 of the state finance code. For a copy of the law, call (518) 473-5622.
WT will be running interviews in upcoming issues with key infotech strategists in other states. We welcome your comments, tips and suggestions. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org or call Sina Fusco Kniseley at (703) 848-2800, ext. 154.