Utah Bridges Budget, IT Planning

As technology evolves and people's expectations change, state and local government information technology managers are faced with a widening gap between their budgets and the systems, equipment and services they want to buy.

To narrow this gap and to educate finance and IT departments about each other's needs, the state of Utah came up with a plan.

Dubbed PlanIT, the new system enables IT managers to track their portfolio of technology assets, and it makes individual agencies more accountable for their spending.

"For example, an agency can see how much money it's spending per employee for [local-area network] administration," said Dave Moon, Utah's chief information officer. "That allows us to compare similar costs for different agencies to better understand their different needs. And it gives IT managers more information to make better decisions about how to run their operations."

PlanIT replaces an older client/server budgeting system that fell short as the state's technology needs grew. It is the centerpiece of a new approach to IT throughout the state.

"The old system was a fill-in-the-box system, and the boxes were pretty limited," said Richard North, senior policy analyst for Utah's Information Technology Commission. "PlanIT is kind of like the dessert following the preparation of a big meal. A lot of structural components had to be put in place first. The state used to have an IT coordinator, who didn't have the same sort of global reach as the CIO's office. Along the way, there was a realization that interaction between key players, such as the state legislature, the CIO and the state's agencies, is critical to this kind of system."

Sporting a familiar World Wide Web-based user interface augmented by secure access that helps protect sensitive data, PlanIT divides each agency's technology portfolio into two easy-to-manage parts. IT managers can plot costs of infrastructure such as LANs and PCs and simultaneously get information about the ongoing costs of hardware and software.

The new system was developed by a team of Utah programmers and a local systems integrator. It was online in less than six months for less than $30,000, Moon said.

"When you look at the state of Utah as a $6 billion corporation, the amount we've spent to put PlanIT online is a drop in the bucket," North said.

Managers appreciate the program's flexibility.

"We anticipated the need for a project to be able to accommodate multiple expense account codes within an agency, but we hadn't anticipated the need to accommodate multiple organizational codes," Moon said. "The flexibility of the software made that change relatively easy."

The new system also has increased communication and understanding throughout the state, officials said.

"This approach has motivated the budgeteers to talk to the IT folks," said Jonathan Ball, technology analyst for the Office of Utah's Legislative Fiscal Analyst. "In many states, the people responsible for making the budget just take last year's numbers and add a certain percentage to them to account for inflation. Our approach helps to ensure that the budget reflects the reality of each agency's actual IT needs."

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