Feb 12 2018

Washington State Gets a Clear View of IT with New Tracking Framework

Tired of not knowing where its IT funding was going, the state created a window into its tech spending that allowed it to better understand and optimize IT.

In order to optimize IT spending, many state government leaders decide that they need to centralize statewide IT. While this is certainly one way to go about it — Louisiana recently saved millions by bringing all IT for 162 executive branch agencies under one roof — Washington state has proved that it's possible to consolidate IT spending without merging all IT resources.

To get a more robust look at IT spending — in order to better plan budgets and justify future tech purchases — the state's Office of the CIO recently tapped a tracking methodology from the TBM (Technology Business Management) Council along with a taxonomy framework software that uses cloud billing standards based on Microsoft Azure and other cloud services.

Together, these systems help the Office of Financial Management monitor IT spending for 44 participating agencies, according to GCN.

"We have architected and brought about practices in our program to allow the agencies to work independently on how they move their money through our financial system," Cammy Webster, senior program manager of the OCIO's TBM program, tells GCN. "We've brought in a way that agencies can all have common denominators on how they report out and still have a federated government without centralized IT."

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IT Tracking Justifies Modernization

Washington's TBM program works by requiring all agencies that spend more than $250,000 annually in IT to file weekly spending reports that include information that falls within the TBM taxonomy. This includes expenses for both buckets of costs, such as services, software or facilities as well as IT resources, like data centers and networks. Since 95 percent of the state's agencies spend upward of $250,000, according to GCN, the state can analyze nearly all of its IT spending.

"We didn't want to reinvent the wheel on agency-ingrained fiscal practices, so we analyzed each agency and gave them the freedom to choose whatever mechanisms that are appropriate to use the templates assigning the costs into the IT resource towers," Derek Puckett, a TBM consultant at the OCIO, tells GCN. "We decided to use the system that we have and change a bunch of our business practices to get the results that we need without changing fundamental financial practices."

The framework represents the end of a lengthy process to better understand IT spending. The journey began in 2010 and included more than three years of meetings in which the OCIO tried to persuade agencies to adopt the TBM framework, StateScoop reports. After more than 40 meetings with separate department CIOs, Webster tells the site that the OCIO finally decided to change course with processes. OCIO officials made it clear to CIOs at the 44 agencies affected that the new practices would benefit the agencies in the long run.

"We made the program more nimble," Webster tells StateScoop. "As agencies have explained it to us, we came in and brought in some standardization and process and procedures and showed them how they fit in and it was like giving them an easy button."

In 2017, Washington learned it was spending $1.4 billion on IT, much of which was going to support legacy systems while modernization projects were taking place, according to StateScoop. The OCIO could justify much of its modernizing costs as just temporary spending because it would no longer need to maintain legacy systems once the project was complete.

"TBM puts the narrative in control of the agencies," Webster tells StateScoop.

Not only did Washington's OCIO find a better way to track spending, but it also created a foundation that can usher in new practices and services for the state. The tracking framework has created a single, aggregated IT data set that the state can now use to glean predictive spending analytics with the help of machine learning.

"The best thing governments can do is to take stock of where their IT spending practices currently are and work within the boundaries to create an early value goal to improve processes," Webster tells GCN. "Start small and capture a win by identifying an area for immediate improvement so you don't get analysis paralysis with too much information to even get started."

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