State IT consolidation can succeed

Successful information technology consolidation in state government usually means culture change, and that can require the deft use of carrots and sticks to overcome resistance.

And in the face of serious resistance, "a little shock and awe" sometimes becomes necessary, said Northrop Grumman's Jorman Granger.

"If you're not taking folks by the neck and saying, 'We're gonna do this, damn it,' it ain't gonna get done," said Granger, the company's vice president for client accounts, during a panel discussion last week at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers' 2007 midyear conference in Chantilly, Va.

Granger and the other panelists agreed that organizationwide IT consolidation and its accompanying uncertainties may be particularly daunting to the change-resistant culture of state government.

''Unless you know that you still have a job, where you're going to work, what you're going to do, it's very difficult to be enthusiastic about dramatic change," said Donna Morea, president of CGI.

Granger offered the example of former Virginia Gov. Doug Wilder's unsuccessful initiative to privatize benefits. Granger, who worked for Wilder at the time, said agency support for the effort flagged and the program ultimately failed.

But roughly a decade later, an ambitious IT consolidation effort under Gov. Mark Warner succeeded, said Virginia CIO Lem Stewart, who moderated the panel.

Getting all veteran employees to buy into a consolidation effort is "almost an impossibility," Stewart said. But through the use of several strategic tools ? including legislative mandates that require agencies to comply or face being in violation of state code ? a consolidation project can succeed.

"I'm one of those [who] say, 'Move as fast as you can, hit hard, do it with mandates, completely tear it down. And then rebuild the relationships in the new culture,'" Stewart said.

At the federal level, Tim Young, the Office of Management and Budget's associate administrator for e-government and IT, said the Bush administration has emphasized transparency to spur progress in consolidation-related initiatives.

Young used the example of the President's Management Agenda score card, which evaluates agencies in various performance categories. Agenda briefings with President Bush are held at a large conference table with assigned seating; the deputy secretaries of agencies with the best scores sit closest to the president, while the lowest performers sit farthest away.

"We call that 'management through humiliation,'" Young said. "It's very effective, and it doesn't cost a dime."

But stressing the benefits of IT consolidation also is crucial, panelists said. Dan Ross, Missouri CIO, said that for the political leader of a state, leading a successful cost-saving consolidation could be a feather in one's cap.

"Every governor looks in the mirror in the morning and sees a future president," Ross said. "And so, they need a success story."

And the panelists agreed that engaging all stakeholders, including those resistant to change, is always vital.

"Convince them ? even if it takes a brainwashing ? that this is in the best interest of the citizens, of the taxpayers. By and large, it works," Young said.

Finally, panelists said, don't let a bumpy ride distract from the project's long-term vision.

"Just get ready to listen to a lot" of complaining, Stewart said.

Mark Tarallo is a freelance writer.

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