During the last several years, governors have issued executive orders and state lawmakers have passed legislation requiring IT consolidation in a growing number of states. In April, for example, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty ordered IT consolidation as part of a bigger plan to reform state government and save $570 million by 2011. Pawlenty gave his CIO the authority to implement a program to reduce inefficiency and redundancy in the state’s IT systems.
Government leaders are weighing in on this issue for one simple reason: cost savings. They want savings of millions, and sometimes tens of millions, of dollars. That’s the message newly elected Missouri Gov. Matt Blunt gave CIO Dan Ross when he recently hired him. (See “Legislating IT Consolidation ” on page 36.)
This new directive from government leaders places enormous pressure on CIOs, but it’s a task I believe they welcome.
CIOs have long understood the value of streamlining government, and some states have benefited from IT consolidation for years. But for other CIOs, the effort has been an uphill battle. Not only did they require the support of key state legislators and the governor’s office, but they also needed the backing of the individual state agencies.
Many agencies asked why they should give up their authority to purchase and manage their own technology to a central office without any guarantee that it would deliver the necessary services. In numerous cases, CIOs’ consolidation efforts were shunned. Now, instead of worrying about lobbying politicians and individual agencies, CIOs can concentrate on managing the consolidation effort and ensuring the most efficient use of technology and personnel.
So, where do CIOs and their staff begin? In order to identify targets for consolidation, governments must first take an inventory of their IT assets.
Servers grow like weeds. Left unchecked, they can waste a tremendous amount of resources. To counteract that, IT staff must find common applications and data and then house them together on a server farm. Reducing the number of servers will reduce maintenance fees and software licensing costs, while improving reliability and security.
With IT resources centralized, CIOs can standardize their hardware and software, which cuts costs by making equipment easier to manage. Also, CIOs should examine each agency’s IT services, such as telecommunications, in order to determine if duplication can be eliminated by sharing and leveraging services.
In Missouri, for example, the state government used to have two overlapping IT divisions, and its 16 cabinet agencies managed their own IT services. Ross, the new CIO, now runs a single reorganized IT division that oversees 13 of the 16 agencies’ IT operations. Ross has already identified two ways to save money: consolidate networks and combine the purchasing power of all the agencies to obtain better prices on technology.
For consolidation to work, collaboration, communication and customer service are crucial. Stakeholders from every agency must be involved in the process—from planning to implementation. Also, it’s vital to provide the top-notch customer service that agencies have come to expect.
Lastly, CIOs should view consolidation as an opportunity to turn their IT dreams and goals into reality. Consolidation doesn’t mean the end of new technology investments. Instead, consolidation is an opportunity to dust off long-dormant plans to overhaul financial or human resources applications or increase the delivery of e-government services.
The political push for consolidation is good news for CIOs because it gives them the mandate they need to get the work done. It takes a lot of planning and hard work, but the result is a more efficient, cost-effective government. And that translates into better services for citizens.