Eye on the States

States Take Steps to Share Vital Lessons

Thomas R. Davies

By Thomas R. Davies

One of the greatest challenges facing the states is how to collaborate on solving common information technology problems. State IT leaders are aware of the need to collaborate but have lacked an effective means to do so.

With recent changes in federal policy, such as welfare reform, states must find a way to share data across geographical, jurisdictional and program boundaries. These changes, coupled with common concerns like the year 2000 problem, make cross-state collaboration crucial to the successful operation of state government programs.

Fortunately, states have begun to take steps to set up a mechanism for collaboration on IT management and technical issues. In 1997, the National Association of State Information Resource Executives (NASIRE), the primary membership organization for state chief information officers, formed the State Information Technology Consortium.

Initially financed with seed money from Virginia, the consortium has become NASIRE's technical arm. It is now funded by membership fees from the states, as well as project fees from its work for them.

Based in Herndon, Va., the consortium's mission is to reduce information technology risks facing state governments, advance the management and acquisition of information technology, and promote the integration of technology across state agencies and borders.

The consortium's board of directors is composed primarily of NASIRE members. The staff is drawn largely from the Software Productivity Consortium, whose priorities have been focused on system acquisition and risk management. The executive director of the State Information Technology Consortium is Bob Glasser.

Not too surprisingly, those states with a reputation for innovation and leadership were among the first to join. They include: California, Georgia, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Missouri, South Dakota, Virginia and Washington.

Consortium members are receiving technical assistance in the areas of year 2000 risk assessments, system requirement definition and procurement. The risk assessments have proven especially valuable as many states, particularly the larger ones, continue to struggle with acquiring and implementing new systems.

Some states mistakenly have thought that by outsourcing the responsibility for systems design and development, they would be outsourcing the risk. This has not been the case. Even when using outside contractors, it is becoming evident that states need to adopt risk management processes, methods and tools.

Suffering from cost overruns, delayed implementations and "scope creep," many states have concluded risk management is critical to any large, complex IT project.

More importantly, the chief information officers of states are recognizing failures typically result from weaknesses in underlying management processes and not necessarily the technology.

So when faced with one of the largest and most complex projects in recent memory, the year 2000 software conversion problem, states are turning to the State Information Technology Consortium for assistance.

One immediate benefit of the consortium is it established a source of IT best practices in the states.

Through consortium workshops, training and technical assistance, the member states are accumulating and documenting best practices that will be shared with all consortium members.

In the short run, the State Information Technology Consortium will benefit the states immeasurably: It creates a forum whereby state IT leaders can collaborate on common concerns.

In the long run, the consortium will benefit supply-chain partners, like the federal government, as well as the IT vendor community. It is a win-win for everyone concerned and a tribute to forward-thinking leadership in NASIRE and the states.

Thomas Davies is senior vice president of Federal Sources State and Local Government practice in McLean, Va. David DeBrandt provided research for this article.

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