By David Bicknell
US states’ recent history on IT projects has been a rollercoaster ride with more downs than ups.
The State of Florida’s recent experiences have mirrored those of others. As this article details, Florida’s modernisation and consolidation of its IT systems has had its fair share of headlines.
“The tenures of the first two chief information officers were controversial. Both resigned; afterward, auditors found problems with how contracts and agency finances had been managed. The third CIO cancelled the questionable contracts, but the missteps left a shadow over the agency, and in 2005 the Legislature eliminated its funding.”
As the article points out, for many years,Florida’s individual departmental agencies made their own IT decisions, leaving the state with nearly two dozen data centres, 30 e-mail systems, 200 different IT groups and 150 websites. Bush believed merging those systems and centralising control of IT operations would make government more efficient and allow the state to take advantage of economies of scale.
But the process has been a slow one. Almost glacial. A new Agency for Enterprise Information Technology (AEIT) was set up to handle the consolidation efforts and create IT policy — but it has been restricted in its work, designed to be “a small agency with a small staff with a large mission in our hands,” according to its CIO David Taylor.
The department, with a staff of just 16 and a budget of $1.6 million, cannot dictate what systems other agencies should use and purchase. Instead, its role is restricted to advising departments on strategies like bulk buying and working with agencies to standardise specifications for equipment to help facilitate volume purchases. The agencies, however, aren’t required to follow AEIT’s advice. And bigger IT targets — core business systems, accounting systems and licensing systems – remain untouched.
Taylor believes that the state would be better served by “one unified IT agency” with some teeth to do something — and he may eventually get his wish.
In December, the Florida Government Efficiency Task Force, a panel that provides cost-cutting strategies to the Legislature, recommended giving the agency budget and procurement authority for “enterprise” projects and services and giving it greater power to enforce its standards.
Florida’s modernisation of its IT systems may eventually pick up pace. But don’t expect miracles. Just a crawl.
Even Taylor accepts the need for an almost painfully steady-as-you-go approach. “We should demonstrate that we can be successful in our current consolidation efforts before taking on even greater challenges.”