California Aims to Bring IT Training Up to Snuff

California Aims to Bring IT Training Up to Snuff

By Andrea Novotny
Staff Writer

After bungling several key information technology projects, California officials are developing a policy to certify that project managers have the necessary training to oversee IT efforts, state officials said.

A policy is now being finalized by the state's Department of Information Technology that will spell out the level of experience and training project managers need to handle information technology projects, said Joan Osuna, the department's deputy director for strategic planning and project initiation.

The new requirements will be keyed to the scope of the IT project as well as its cost, complexity and impact on government business, Osuna said.

Currently, individual departments and agencies within the state's government each have their own criteria for managing IT projects. However, those policies vary from one department to the next. The statewide policy now being developed will resolve those discrepancies, Osuna said.

Planned for release this summer, the policy is designed to boost the state's odds of successfully completing all IT projects by establishing statewide standards concerning the training and expertise required to oversee such efforts, Osuna said.

Other states have invested in project management training for key personnel, but those investments are discretionary and usually are not given first priority by top state officials, said Thomas Davies, vice president of state and local for Federal Sources, McLean, Va.

"Project management has been a weak link in many large automation projects in state and local governments," Davies said. "The industry and government historically have underestimated the complexity and difficulty of managing IT projects."

A statewide policy similar to the one California is championing is a key step in recognizing that project management is a competency states must have across their entire enterprise, he said.

"[One] of the major reasons why projects fail ... is because of a lack of good project management," said John Thomas Flynn, California's chief information officer. He also heads the state's Department of Information Technology, which now oversees California's $2 billion information technology investment.

A failed effort in 1994 on an IT project to rewrite the database for automobile registrations prompted the creation of Flynn's department.

"There are certain barriers in the public sector, but I don't think that should be an excuse when running big IT projects," Flynn said. Such barriers include tight budgets and the state's civil service system, which makes it difficult to hire expertise outside the state government, he said.

Because California is such a large state, it undertakes some of the most complex IT projects nationwide in state government, he said.

But even in the private sector, only one out of three major IT projects is successfully completed, he said.

California currently classifies high-risk IT projects as multimillion-dollar initiatives that are spread over several years and involve several phases.

These projects also may involve technology never before used by the state.

Low-risk projects would include furnishing employees with desktop computers.

California is working with professional organizations, such as the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Inc., New York, on a pilot training program, Osuna said. For instance, the state has been sending some of its IT professionals to IEEE courses, and encourages these professionals to use resources offered by the Project Management Institute Inc., Newtown Square, Pa., an organization geared to advancing the practice of managing projects and programs.

Other states may recognize the need for project management expertise but rarely take action to resolve the problem, Davies said.

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