California’s self-improvement project

The California Performance Review has faded from the headlines, but on the front lines, it’s a different story

3 tech strategies

The California Performance Review recommended in 2004 that the state make strategic investments in code libraries, portfolio management and open-source computing.

Now, three years later, the state is tilting toward a service-oriented architecture (SOA), without adopting code libraries per se, said J. Clark Kelso, California’s departing chief information officer. Kelso has a role in implementing the information technology recommendations of CPR. In 2004, he and more than 200 state employees assigned to the project helped generate them.

“We haven’t created a code library as such,” Kelso said, “but we have adopted SOA as a guiding principle.”

This year, the state began creating applications using SOA principles. One is a Social Security number verification service that provides real-time access to a federal database. The service replaces a batch processing application that provided only monthly updates.

The verification service was created for one agency, but other state agencies can use it, Kelso said.

CPR recommended another measure, portfolio management, as a strategic investment. Thom Rubel, practice director of government programs at Government Insights, said the state lacked such an approach in 2003. “They didn’t know, for the most part, what their IT assets were or their value to the mission.”

As recommended by CPR, state agencies will eventually adopt portfolio management process, Rubel said.

A third CPR recommendation led to the creation of a working group and a user group focused on open-source computing, Kelso said. “There appear to be some very good content management systems in the open-source environment that are very easy to use.”

Kelso said open source’s ease of use complements the state’s plans to have office workers handle Web page content management instead of IT employees.

— John Moore

Editor’s note: On Dec. 6, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger nominated Teri Takai, Michigan’s chief information officer, to be the state’s first Cabinet-level CIO. California’s CIO, J. Clark Kelso, said he has begun working with Takai to ensure a smooth transition.

Many of the information technology improvements recommended in the California Performance Review, a statewide assessment of operations in 2004, have inconspicuously changed how the state conducts its business. But policy experts and state officials say the most far-reaching and expensive proposals are still just that — proposals looking for funding.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger launched CPR to address the state’s financial crisis in 2004. The CPR report, published in August of that year, contained more than 1,400 recommendations for boosting efficiency and cutting costs. Measures included revamping the IT organization and governance structure, using the General Services Administration’s schedule contracts, and modernizing the state’s procurement systems.

Early on, some critics said the initiative didn’t do enough to shake up an entrenched bureaucracy. Others feared the recommendations would make state government less accessible to the people. 

J. Clark Kelso, California’s departing chief information officer, said CPR as a whole wasn’t popular initially, but pieces have survived on their merit. “A lot of the individual ideas in the CPR actually are being implemented because they are good ideas,” he said.

Three years later, the state has implemented one of CPR’s major recommendations: providing adequate funding for the CIO’s office. That contrasts sharply with the situation that existed five years ago when the state’s IT department lost its funding because of a procurement scandal.

The controversy centered on a $95 million sole-source contract the state awarded to Oracle under Gov. Gray Davis’ administration. Disenchantment over the contract, which the state auditor concluded was overpriced, led the California legislature to eliminate the state’s IT department in 2002.

CPR’s IT section contained nearly 100 recommendations in addition to the one supporting the state CIO’s office. However, some of those recommendations remain on the shelf because of lack of funding.

CPR recommended that California implement statewide business systems. The Financial Information System for California (FISCal) would integrate the state’s accounting, procurement and asset management functions. It exists only as a CPR recommendation for now. The state legislature considered the proposal last year but did not approve it.

The challenge is to find an alternative to spending general fund money on the business systems project because that budget is expected to be tight in the next couple of years, Kelso said. The legislature asked Kelso’s office to study the project further and deliver a revised proposal.

Kelso said FISCal and other CPR measures, including a new human resources and payroll system and other business modernization projects, would require the state to spend about $1.5 billion.

Despite the lack of progress on big-ticket modernization projects, analysts generally give CPR a passing grade for helping the state improve its operations.

“Overall, they are headed down the right path and doing the things that CPR called for,” said Thom Rubel, practice director of government programs at Government Insights, a public-sector market research firm.

Obtaining funding and statutory authority for the CIO’s office is a big step forward, he added.

CPR found that the CIO position was largely advisory and lacked oversight authority. In August, lawmakers finally moved to recast the CIO’s role. The legislature appropriated funding to make the office a Cabinet-level agency, and it provided $4.6 million in funding for the office for the state’s 2007-08 fiscal year. The enacting legislation calls for the CIO to oversee IT projects and enforce plans and standards.

Some see those developments as a turning point for the state. “The passing of the CIO legislation may have closed the book on the rancor dating back to the Davis administration in terms of IT governance,” said Chris Dixon, manager of state and local industry analysis at market research firm Input.

Consolidation savings
The state also adopted other CPR ideas, including some efficiency measures. For example, the review recommended consolidating two data centers — the Stephen P. Teale Data Center and the California Health and Human Services Agency Data Center. The consolidation concept gained momentum in 2005 with the establishment of the Department of Technology Services as a single entity to manage data-center operations.

The consolidation has saved the state $43 million a year, Kelso said.

Other CPR recommendations focused on public service measures, such as revamping the state’s MyCalifornia Web portal. After the CPR report was published, IT officials spent several months weighing priorities for improving the portal and chose to make usability enhancements.

Officials are updating the portal to comply with requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. They began the work last year and expected to complete it in November, Kelso said. Next year, the state will focus on making more transactions available online.

The state’s work on the portal helped boost its ranking in Brown University’s annual e-government ratings. California rose from No. 31 in 2006 to No. 12 in 2007. The ratings are based on researchers’ analysis of 1,487 state government Web sites. Darrell West, a public policy professor at Brown and the study’s author, said the performance review helped California improve its e-government rating.

Enterprise architecture
Other CPR recommendations have not fared as well as the portal improvements. The proposal that California implement an enterprise architecture remains a work in progress, Kelso said. CPR urged state leaders to formulate standards that would keep agencies’ new IT purchases aligned with current and future IT systems.

Implementing that architecture is taking longer than expected. The state does not have an employee who can be dedicated full-time to the project, Kelso said. However, the architecture work is necessary so IT deployments can “grow in a rational way instead of ad hoc and confused.” 

Assessing CPR’s effectiveness is difficult, Dixon said. “There’s no centralized report card that anyone can reflect back to,” he said. “It’s difficult to get a strict assessment.”

Dixon said public discussions about the review, which were intense in 2004 and 2005, have died down. “It’s been pretty quiet since then,” he said.

However, one way to assess how effective CPR has been is to compare its recommendations with the state’s IT strategic plan, Dixon said. The 24 objectives under that plan roughly align with CPR’s IT recommendations.

Achieving all those goals could take at least a decade, he said, noting that it took three years to implement CPR’s recommendation for a CIO with funding and spending authority. Modernizing the state’s business systems will take even longer.

The modernization effort offers an opportunity to re-engineer the state’s business processes, which is in keeping with CPR, Kelso said. “We are now trying to do that,” he said.

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