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Massachusetts bribery scandal over Cognos BI is sad commentary on IT

Talk about a lack of business intelligence: A former Cognos BI sales rep has been indicted, along with some former top Massachusetts officials, in a bribery scandal surrounding a now-voided $13 million deal for performance management software for state government.

Though nearly all the players have since moved on to other things, this episode takes us back to a time that wasn’t good for this state’s IT. Indeed, the IT organization was apparently nothing but a pawn in this transaction, as the House speaker and his associates took seeming advantage of a CIO office in transition.

The time of the alleged activity found the IT organization in the hands of an acting CIO, the previous two CIOs having left after short tenures in apparent turmoil over an open document standard. CIO Peter Quinn resigned in late 2005, and his successor, Louis Gutierrez, lasted just 10 months. Gutierrez resigned in October 2006, citing a lack of funding for the commonwealth’s technology initiatives. Interesting how the House speaker pushed through legislation for $15 million for a BI project just a short time later. (He resigned earlier this year and is a key figure in the indictment.)

The acting CIO then signed off on the Cognos BI deal; in one account, this interim leader said the influence of top politicians didn’t affect her technology choice. However, the project didn’t get far. The commonwealth finally hired a permanent CIO in July 2007, Anne Margulies, who soon “raised concerns about ‘discrepancies’ in the bids,” and ordered the review that eventually uncovered the alleged activity, according to one report.

Now, anyone who pays attention to the news knows that there’s plenty of influence peddling out there, and much of what we find out about is in the public sphere, where everything from construction contracts to political office seems to be available for a price. CIOs are hardly immune to similar temptations. Whether it’s Lakers tickets or a pool in your backyard, CIOs do encounter vendor bribes, and it’s my guess that not all of them are as honest as the CIOs we interviewed for a story on steering clear of vendor bribes a couple years back.

Still, in Massachusetts, it’s notable that only elected officials and their lobbyist face charges as a result of the investigation into the bribery scandal. But the fact that no one from IT was fingered isn’t exactly good news, either. If elected officials (or executives) are steering the IT ship, choosing the technology path or big package that will perform key functions for years to come, something is wrong. Of course, with a revolving CIO door, Massachusetts already knew that.

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