Centralization and Cultural Change

Boise, Idaho, brought together IT staff to improve service delivery and make the city one of the most livable in the nation.

A few years ago, the city of Boise, Idaho, had several best-of-breed applications and enjoyed relatively new workstations and servers. However, ample IT challenges still existed.

Customer service was highly distributed. Central and departmental IT staff roles were unclear. Application development and maintenance did not align well with overall city priorities. Standards were not enforced uniformly. Major projects were not managed professionally. Data centers evolved in an organic manner, and servers were deployed with no strategic planning.

What’s more, the city did not have an architected application portfolio. Training and business process improvements were inadequate. Each organization operated in a siloed, stovepipe manner with no apparent regard to integration or collaboration.

In 2004, the powers that be in the city realized that a director-level position reporting to the mayor was needed to improve the service delivery of the disparate technology shops serving the 11 city departments.

I came on board in early 2005 and set about creating an enterprisewide strategic plan for information technology. Our steering committee identified several areas of concern and suggested a consolidated model in which technical expertise would be given its own department and basic services (such as help desk, infrastructure and training) would be centralized under the supervision of the chief information officer.

Because the steering committee was made up of department heads, we all “stacked hands” and set out to execute the plan.

As we got into the details of planning the transition and started discussing exactly who would report to whom, it became evident that contention would rule the outcome.

The mayor stepped in and reasoned that we were missing the point if we were going to argue about to whom our employees reported. He believed the real payoff would come from leveraging the systems, hardware, software and — most important — the talent across the enterprise.

An Executive Directive was issued to centralize all IT talent under the Office of the CIO, and we became one department effective Oct. 1, 2006. Our final teams took charge on Feb. 5, 2007.

Our organization was formed around a typical IT structure, with planning and business-analysis talent embedded in the departments and all other functions centralized organizationally, but not necessarily physically.

Four cornerstones, which we felt were essential to the success of our endeavor, were established to aid the transition:

  1. Standardize the desktop. Reduce the individual setup of 1,500 desktops to 20 images, ultimately moving to a concept that would be centrally controlled and managed from a lifecycle standpoint.
  2. Consolidate data centers. Reduce three data centers to one, located at city hall, with plans to reduce 40 remote data centers to four. Reduce 150 physical servers to 40, ultimately moving to a managed lifecycle similar to the desktop deployment — all while continuing to strive for greater speed and reliability and smarter pricing.
  3. Establish a world-class help desk. Transition from an informal help desk staffed by part-time, temporary employees to a genuine Customer Service Center with full-time professional help-desk staff, and implement an Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL)–compliant IT service-management software package.
  4. Develop a human-resources and financials improvement plan. On a dual track, we are executing a stabilization plan for the current enterprise resource planning solution while looking strategically at what the long-term ERP system will need to be in the next 10 to 15 years.

All these efforts now have traction, and we are in the process of matching business planning with technology service delivery.

Because of the perceived (and real) success that we’ve achieved with our centralized model, we are looking at other areas that might be ready for change. We realize that our city is at a point where it is possible to change the way things have been done forever.

We, in technology, feel good about being in the vanguard of change.

I will tell you that the effort is not for the faint of heart. You can never stop selling, talking, persuading and executing. You must stay the course as problems arise and never look back. It’s not about the technology; it’s about managing cultural change.

Bring on board the best people you can find, nurture them and jettison the nay-sayers, determine the direction with the team and then get out of the way. At the bottom of the change curve, keep a trapdoor open for those who cannot or will not join the effort.

It’s all about the team.

Jun 11 2008