Pennsylvania CIO Assesses State's Progress

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Pennsylvania CIO Assesses State's Progress

Pennsylvania Chief Information Officer Larry Olson, who has been pushing state and federal officials to coordinate their disparate year 2000 efforts, finally hit pay dirt.

Officials from all levels of government flocked to a working summit in Pittsburgh last week to share lessons and devise strategies for executing the nation's year 2000 software conversion effort.

The State/Federal CIO Summit on the Year 2000 - the first event of its kind - was the brainchild of Olson, 42, who has been Pennsylvania's CIO since June 1995.

What concerns Olson most is that state and local governments that have moved to correct their software will experience system failures if data coming from other systems are not year 2000 compliant.

Olson offered his assessment of year 2000 progress during an interview with Washington Technology staff writer Nick Wakeman.

WT: How can you protect your state from other states or federal agencies that are not compliant?

OLSON: That is going to be a tough challenge. That is why we decided on a working summit and not just a meet-and-greet. We need to figure out what we need to do.

Agreements must be reached on how to deal with [different levels of compliance]. What does it mean? Whose responsibility is it? Do we need to start jointly working out contingency planning? If systems are not operating, how do we start agreeing to work on a day-to-day basis to get around the problem?

WT: As states work toward the year 2000, what type of cooperation will we see?

OLSON: Most of it will be the sharing of information and best practices. If we've done something that has worked or hasn't worked, let's share that.

Also, working with the federal agencies is important. By working now, we don't have to go individually to 60 different federal agencies that we work with and get agreements. That takes time. And the federal agencies don't have to work out deals with all 50 states.

So by sharing information and coming up with some common agreements, it is going to make all our lives easier. It is not going to solve the problem.

There is still a lot to do but at least it will give us a framework to communicate, collaborate and cooperate.

WT: How far along is Pennsylvania in its year 2000 conversion effort?

OLSON: We are tracking the remediation of 42,000 programs that need to be fixed. The mission-critical programs will be completed by June 1998. Everything else will be completed by December 1998.

It is an aggressive schedule, and out of all the work, we have completed over 20 percent. So we feel we are in very good shape.

But the issue for us is that we are not an island. We work so closely with federal agencies, businesses and local governments that we have to rely on [compliant] data from other groups.

WT: Pennsylvania's approach has been to let the agencies do much of the work in-house. Is this changing as the deadline nears?

OLSON: The approach varies. Since we were able to start relatively early, we have had the agencies looking at their budgets and resources with year 2000 as a top priority. They can fix the problem either in house or contract it out.

We wanted them to identify program by program which way they wanted to go. But we have the ability, as things change, to move from in-house staff to contractors.

Right now, about 30 percent is scheduled to be done by contractors, but that will probably increase.

WT: Have any agencies had to cut back on programs to pay for year 2000 fixes?

OLSON: We told the agencies to do year 2000 fixes within their existing budgets or tell us what extra money they need. This year, six or seven agencies requested an additional $11 million.

We looked at that and confirmed, yes, it makes sense to do that. We have not had to stop any major programs. But if it ever gets down to this program or that one, the year 2000 gets fixed first.

WT: From your perspective, how are the states doing overall?

OLSON: It's a very mixed bag. I work very closely with five or six other states. Two states that started before Pennsylvania are Washington and Nebraska. Others that are doing well are Massachusetts, Michigan and Texas.

But we have heard that other states are just now starting. They are going to have some problems. What percentage will be successful and what percentage won't be I don't know.

The only way you will succeed is when you have good strong executive commitment. That goes for businesses, too.

Whether you are the chairman of the board or the governor, you have to make it clear you might not understand the problem, but you have to understand that it has to be fixed. Unless you get that kind of commitment, it is going to be a hard road to ride.

WT: Is the year 2000 problem putting a strain on relationships with vendors? Are we going to see states suing contractors if there are problems?

OLSON: I have heard quotes attributed to Lloyd's of London that there will be $1 trillion in litigation in the United States.

Are we anticipating suing? Certainly not at this time. We have been working with our vendors over a year. Hopefully that risk will minimized. But you just never really know.

We have gotten strong cooperation from the vendor community. They want to work with us, because we are managing the process. It lessens their liability, because they are working with a client that stands a good chance of coming out of this well. We have seen [contractors] picking their clients.

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