Widgets to Worth

Kansas City CIO transforms IT performance from insignificant reports to measurements that gauge real value for government and citizens.

Eight years ago, when Gail Roper started as CIO of Kansas City, Mo., she couldn’t complain about a lack of measurements. The IT department compiled an endless supply of reports counting just about everything imaginable. But rather than producing a multitude of reports, she wanted to produce valuable reports.

Roper also serves as chair of the Telecommunications and Information Technology Council of the Public Technology Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based network of CIOs and IT directors representing PTI member cities and counties. Roper recently spoke with StateTech about some of the changes she’s made during her tenure in Kansas City and how those changes have helped boost the performance of the agency.


STATETECH: When you became Kansas City’s CIO, did you see major gaps in the way the IT department functioned?
ROPER: The IT organization was not aligned with the strategic direction of the organization in terms of IT being an enabler for business solutions. It focused primarily on running generic reports from a mainframe system — basically green bar reports that gauged statistical information, but had no real value for improving efficiency or giving data to the departments to help them make better budgetary decisions.


STATETECH: What did you do to change that?
ROPER: My primary objective was to educate the staff on the benefits of IT from a business alignment standpoint, and to understand specifically how we could fill gaps in the organization and improve efficiency and productivity. We needed to get out there and, first of all, start to understand what departments were struggling with — what barriers kept them from being a benefit to the organization.

We had to change the whole mentality within my organization because people weren’t getting out at all. They basically had desk jobs. So I changed the structure of my organization and developed a strategy and planning division that consisted of businesspeople who had a better understanding of what the business needs were in terms of data and organizational challenges.

Within that organization, we developed an enterprise project office so we understood what our project portfolio looked like. We developed a complete project methodology so that we could talk to people about the status of projects and how we were doing in terms of budgeting on those projects.

STATETECH: How has that customer focus changed IT’s day-to-day operations?
ROPER: First, we’re reaching out to customers. We go out and talk to them about their needs. We develop service-level agreements with our customers and memos of understanding.

We’re also bringing them in. We have a governance model that allows our business customers to sit on a board that oversees IT-business alignment. It gives us insights into their needs and provides an opportunity to educate them about how technology can help them do their jobs.

STATETECH: How have you been able to measure the effectiveness of the organizational changes you’ve implemented?
ROPER: We’re actually getting away from the widget-counting and “four nines” kind of measures (you know, the network’s up 99.99 percent of the time) and moving toward measurements that really gauge value. For example, we view our portfolio as a whole and determine how these systems benefit the organization from a return-on-investment standpoint: How does the system pay for itself? We also consider efficiency: How do these systems help us get more done with less?

STATETECH: So your primary focus is currently on improving productivity?
ROPER: The other element has been to determine how we can best serve the Kansas City public. IT has historically been more of an internal organization that’s served the administrative aspects of the organization, but we’re now working outside the organization with neighborhood groups. For instance, we have gone into community centers and provided them with technology to utilize the parks programs.

STATETECH: Do you offer the community any measurements to gauge how well the city is doing its job?
ROPER: We’re working on a project called Enterprise Program Management (EPM), a data warehouse that will allow us to present the success measures established by each department — kind of like a scorecard — and post that to our Web site.

STATETECH: What types of things will EPM measure?
ROPER: I think that it’s important to measure how effective we are in delivering basic services: how well we remove snow, how well we repair and build catch basins — basic services that individuals want as they come into the city.

[EPM] will offer comparisons with prior years. We do an annual audit to determine what citizens think of city services. The auditors report on the areas where there are gaps, and these become the focus for what we need to improve.

STATETECH: So your hope is that EPM will help reprioritize projects within the city?
ROPER: Yes, but to do that, you have to understand how much it costs. The EPM initiative will help us understand how much it currently costs to do certain things. With disparate systems, it’s virtually impossible to understand how much an initiative costs, so forecasting and proper budgeting become very difficult. We have a partnership with our budget office to use the EPM to really get our arms around how much it costs to do certain initiatives year to year.

STATETECH: What is success for your organization?
ROPER: For us, it’s that we have a good relationship with our customer base, that we’re not hidden behind a barrier from the community. Success for us means that we are the enablers for productivity and efficiency in the organization — and that we have reached out to our customers and that they have come in and shared with us.

At this point, I think we are willing to admit that we don’t know it all. The important thing is that [our customers] help us understand what they need rather than our IT organization telling them what they need.

Putting Performance Measures to Work

IT departments can’t get by any longer with systems that produce intangible returns, especially within agencies, which are accountable to citizens. They are responsible for re-engineering business processes, standardizing data, and delivering measurable productivity and budgetary improvements. Developing strong performance measurements can help agencies address these requirements.

The Arizona State Retirement System is a prime example. With 417,000 members, the Phoenix-based ASRS was struggling to keep pace with its fast-growing membership.

Its popular Service Purchase Program — a statewide program that allows both active, contributing members and members receiving a long-term disability benefit through ASRS to purchase service-year credit from other plans that can be applied toward their pensions and retirement benefits — had a three-month backlog plus eight weeks’ processing time.

“Just like all the pension systems around the country, we’re facing the big onslaught of the baby boomers retiring,” says Patrick O’Keefe, network information systems manager at ASRS. “We needed to develop applications that made us more efficient and allowed us to do more with less.”

ASRS is in the midst of implementing a homegrown pension system, but it’s already seen big results from two components: a document imaging system that lets the entire agency view case histories and related documents online and a workflow application that automatically moves cases through processing.

Today, the average processing time for a service purchase request is 12 business days. However, if necessary, it can be done in a day. And that’s with fewer staff: from 28 employees down to 10.

Project management tools, such as Earned Value Management (EVM), can help IT departments get a clear picture of their projects, their likely value and their status during implementation, explains Joel Koppelman, CEO of Primavera Systems, a project management software firm based in Bala Cynwyd, Pa.

Using EVM, sponsors can tell if a project is on track 15 percent to 20 percent of the way into it, he says. EVM compares projects’ planned vs. actual scope, timeline and resources, and can help IT determine whether to continue the project and what, if any, changes to make.

Oct 31 2006