Va. eyes ambitious enterprise strategy

IT projects "took the axe last year just like everything else...Hopefully, we're out of that right now and have a much better perspective on the resources we have and where we are going from here." ? George Newstrom, Virginia secretary of technology

J. Adam Fenster

Before the Virginia IT Investment Board, there was no rational basis for the General Assembly to select among the competing IT projects, said Josh Levi of the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

J. Adam Fenster

New report details $1.4 billion spending plan for IT projects

A new oversight board in Virginia is charting a course toward an enterprise approach to technology as it continues to assert its control over all technology planning for the state.

The Virginia Information Technology Investment Board recommended that Gov. Mark Warner (D) and the Virginia General Assembly fund statewide initiatives for data center operations, information security, and messaging and e-mail as well as selected enterprise resource planning implementations.

The board last month released a list of 27 projects, ranked in order of importance, that it considers essential to an enterprise IT strategy.

Those projects -- including a $17 million offender management system, a $32 million integrated systems redesign for the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles and a $128 million social services delivery system -- carry a total price tag of $246.7 million.

The recommendations for Virginia's 2004-06 budget are in a report to the governor and legislature that law requires the board to make each September. The state legislature established the board last year as part of a major restructuring of Virginia's technology operations.

The report also outlined in great detail the state's major IT project portfolio, which consists of 115 projects that have an estimated cost of $1.4 billion in both federal and state funding. Of that figure, $1 billion represents active projects, and the rest represents projects that either are in planning stages or suspended.

The board recommended last year that Virginia embark on enterprise resource planning implementations and enterprise messaging and e-mail. The projects weren't funded, however, because the state was mired in a budget crisis, said George Newstrom, Virginia's secretary of technology and the board's chairman.

"These took the axe last year just like everything else," he said. "Hopefully, we're out of that right now and have a much better perspective on the resources we have and where we are going from here."

The state's fiscal situation is improving gradually, said Sam Nixon, vice chairman of the Virginia House of Delegates Science and Technology Committee. He said the state reported a modest budget surplus of $323 million in fiscal 2004.

The board's role in state technology planning is to establish the focus and direction for IT spending and the priorities of 91 agencies, which are organized into 10 secretariats, Newstrom said.

[IMGCAP(2)]Before passage of the legislation that created the board, "there was no rational basis or criteria by which the General Assembly could make a determination among the competing technology projects in the various agencies," said Josh Levi, vice president of policy for the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

Nixon said this would be the first time the legislative committees with budget authority will have access to such information. "They haven't drilled down to that depth in the past," he said.

The board gives the governor and the General Assembly a mechanism to rank projects in order of priority, he said.

Scoring the IT projects was first done by the agencies themselves, then by the secretariats and lastly by the board in consultation with a working group of deputy secretaries, Newstrom said. "At each step of the way, there was input from the stakeholders," he said.

Tom Davies, senior vice president for the market research firm Current Analysis Inc., Sterling, Va., said the report is one of the most comprehensive and thorough accounts of state IT projects he has seen.

"The state has really raised the bar in this regard," he said. "Other states would benefit from looking at their IT spending through the lens of an investment portfolio similar to what Virginia has done."

For high-priority projects, the board recommends that agencies maintain projects for which funding exists. Where there is no funding, the board recommends that the governor include the projects in his budget proposal and that lawmakers fund the projects in the 2005 legislative session.

Warner will review the board's IT budget recommendations along with other budget recommendations over the next 90 days before submitting his proposed budget to the legislature by year's end.

The board was established by the same legislation that last year consolidated the state's technology resources into a single department. The board is composed of members appointed either by the legislature or the governor.

Some observers have questioned whether the board is necessary, given that Virginia already has a secretary of technology. Addressing this, Nixon said: "There are challenges ahead, but the fact that the General Assembly created the board indicates its willingness to manage IT in the state in a different way than it has been done."

The board controls priority-setting for about two-thirds of the state's IT projects, but doesn't control those that were active before it was created, Newstrom said. This eventually will change.

"Over time, the board will have the final decision, at least on a prioritization basis, on all of these projects," Newstrom said. "I give it two years at the outside before every project will have gone through the board's vetting, evaluation and prioritization process." *

Staff Writer William Welsh can be reached at

About the Author

William Welsh is a freelance writer covering IT and defense technology.

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