Saving by sharing

Federal, state and local chief information officers agree that there is a growing need for shared services.

Similar to the federal government's initiative to eliminate redundant information technology spending, some state officials believe they can push individual agencies to pool resources on common IT services.

Richard Varn, Iowa's CIO, is careful to distinguish between shared services and more straightforward consolidation.

Previous efforts at consolidating IT operations generally were geared toward simply reducing costs, by centralizing the support and management of key systems.

Beyond simply consolidating IT resources, shared services typically involves setting up service-level agreements that define the types of services that agencies — the "customers" — can expect from the IT department. Shared services is a more "businesslike" approach, delivering "what the customer needs, not what you think the customer needs," Varn said.

The approach works best with core management applications, such as human resource management systems, he added.

In a similar vein, the fiscal pinch has spurred many state and local governments to look beyond basic services and find ways to pool resources on technology initiatives and share data.

Texas, for example, is undertaking a statewide program for using Extensible Markup Language to transmit data, state CIO Carolyn Purcell said. The XML initiative could benefit law enforcement, health services and other government operations. The state plans to take a similar approach with wireless technology.

"This is an opportunity for us to use our resources to lay out a plan for how to approach the enterprise over the next five to 10 years," Purcell said. "Agencies are compelled by that lack of money."

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