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IT governance framework helps public agencies boost service, cut costs

An IT governance framework can help public agencies improve service levels and cut costs amid tight budgets. Read more about IT governance models in Massachusetts and California.

Implementing an IT governance framework is increasingly important to public sector organizations as they seek to consolidate infrastructure and IT operations, cut costs amid strained municipal budgets and, above all, improve service to residents.

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In Massachusetts, for example, the CIO of the commonwealth is restructuring its IT governance model, creating secretariat CIOs in eight government cabinets overseen by the governor. And in California, the state CIO has created a series of councils to vet and implement IT initiatives.

These efforts are part of a larger trend in the public sphere to integrated computed, according to Doug Washburn, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., who co-authored a recent report, Helping CIOs Understand "Smart City" Initiatives, that examines methods for municipal implementation of IT governance frameworks.

Better IT governance leads to better deployment of technologies to benefit municipal services, experts say.

"We're seeing big opportunities … for CIOs of cities and public entities to really improve areas such as education and health care," Washburn said. "If you're an elected official, these [advances] are things you'll want to tout."

It isn't always easy for CIOs to insert themselves into the conversation about which municipal services can be improved and how, particularly when IT initiatives often require an up-front investment, and so many cities and states are already running budget deficits.

"The CIO needs to educate his peers on the benefits that technology can offer on a more political or public-facing end," Washburn said. He "will have to bear the burden of responsibility for getting players in each of these siloed services together to map a framework," he said.

And even if a CIO's ideas or budget isn't approved, he must continue to be active in IT governance.

"The last thing you want to do as a CIO is be a laggard," Washburn said. "The business relies on you more than ever, especially as the economy improves and there are a lot of pent-up business initiatives."

IT governance frameworks at the state level

In Massachusetts, "technology underlies basically everything we do," said Anne Margulies, the commonwealth's CIO. "Whenever there's a significant change in policy, operation or process, it's critically important to have IT people at the table early on … and important that the governance structure connects to all of the businesses."

The commonwealth is consolidating IT purchases and reducing 183 data centers to just two. This project calls for rolling out a new IT governance framework toward the end of March that's meant to oversee the IT department's half-billion-dollar budget and staff of 2,000.

"We're really elevating the strategic role of IT," Margulies said.

Rather than consolidate all IT operations directly under Margulies, IT groups report to eight cabinet-level secretariat CIOs in such areas as public safety, education, and health and human services. The secretariat CIOs report to their agency head and to Margulies.

There are also three governance groups that report to Margulies: an IT leadership team made up of cabinet-level CIOs, a technology governance group that reviews technology architecture and enterprise security, and an infrastructure services board that reports to the CIO cabinet.

We're definitely seeing truly unprecedented levels of cooperation among people working together who didn't even know each other before.
Anne Margulies
CIOCommonwealth of Massachusetts

"Our goal with all of this consolidation is to get greater efficiencies, make technology more effective and improve information security," Margulies said. "We're definitely seeing truly unprecedented levels of cooperation among people working together who didn't even know each other before."

A similar IT governance model has already seen some success in California. Since introducing its new governance framework and IT operations consolidation strategy in 2007, the state has saved upwards of $400 million, according to Adrian Farley, chief deputy director in the state's Office of the CIO.

Previously, "one of the key flaws in the whole [IT governance] process was that everybody did things differently, so there really wasn't a maximized use of resources," Farley said. "With agencies implementing various technologies in multiple ways, there was a difficulty in developing skill sets, and it was costly to maintain."

The current IT governance framework, which directs 10,000 IT staff statewide, calls for 15 agency CIOs spread across the state, with departmental CIOs reporting to their department and agency director, as well as to the state CIO. Those agency CIOs are appointed jointly by the state CIO and the department director or agency secretary, Farley said.

As in Massachusetts, the state created three councils to develop, vet and execute IT policy throughout the state. The IT Council is made up of the state and agency CIOs; the IT Council Executive Committee includes agency and departmental CIOs who work on strategic IT initiatives; and the Enterprise Leadership Council addresses the alignment between IT and government stakeholders.

"With this new process, we're really developing a strong enterprise architecture across the state, which means consistency in how we're approaching technologies from a business perspective," Farley said.

The savings stemming from this IT governance framework are undeniable. A data center consolidation, completed last year, resulted in $60 million in rate reductions to state departments and agencies, while a five-year plan aimed at ensuring the strategic alignment of technology investments has avoided $400 million in costs by eliminating unnecessary departments and technologies.

"It allows us to develop solutions to meet the needs of state residents more quickly, and cuts down on the costs of running and supporting technology," Farley said.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Rachel Lebeaux, Associate Editor, or follow her on Twitter @rlebeaux.

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