Oct 24 2012

Lessons Learned About Multi-State Collaboration

As with most IT projects, the tech is the easy part; the hard work comes from the relationships and governance.

Several state CIOs actively engaged in cross-boundary collaboration agree the time and effort required to forge these initiatives is worth the rewards of cost savings and efficiencies.

Speaking at the NASCIO 2012 Annual Conference in San Diego, Montana CIO Dick Clark explains that GIS technology posed a good target for a multi-state consortium because most of the data was public-facing, reducing security concerns. Citing the difficulty and cost entailed in switching vendors, he notes that the economics of the cloud give the public sector a good way to respond to increasing budget pressure. “We were one forest fire away from going into the red.”

Colorado, Montana, Oregon and Utah joined forces to work with four different vendors to procure GIS as a service. “Cloud is the way and the path forward,” says Kristin Russell, Colorado CIO and secretary of technology. “It allows us to make [GIS] very agile and extensible to multiple states regardless of size.” 

No Shortcuts

Following the path to multi-state collaboration, however, requires strong governance and ample trust. “IT is the easy part. Ninety percent of my job is not IT; it’s building relationships, trust, business cases and models across government entities,” says Eric Swanson, director of Michigan’s Center for Shared Solutions and Technology Partnerships.

Michigan pays local communities to be network services providers, but its initiatives also extend to other states and, in the case of Canada, another country. The state is working with Iowa on cloud services and Illinois looks to it for a Medicaid management system replacement. 

Meanwhile, Colorado is forging ahead with WyCAN, a cooperative for an unemployment insurance system to be shared by Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona and North Dakota. The group issued an RFP last June, is considering five bids and expects to award a contract by March, says Russell. 

CIOs from the New England states of Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont meet once a quarter on Fridays as part of a “CIO Collaboratorium,” says Peter Hastings, interim CIO for New Hampshire.

After nine months of collaboration, the group has identified opportunities in disaster recovery, mobile devices and aggregated purchases, plus shared policies for retirement, succession planning, cybersecurity and training. “Now that we’ve built a common understanding of the situation, we can dig a little deeper beyond ‘let’s do things together’ to actually get them done,” says Hastings. He expects the next meetings to bear fruit. 

For any state or local IT manager who’s held back from collaborating with other jurisdictions because of the unique nature of that agency, Russell breaks it down: “You’re not as unique or as special as you think you are. And if you are, you shouldn’t be.”