As Forrester Research recently put it, "The natural tendency for different departments within a government agency to be highly territorial is the single biggest impediment to progress on any e-government initiative."
Such was the case in Nevada County, Calif., before they hired a new CIO. The county, located between Sacramento, Calif., and Reno, Nev., has 95,000 residents and, until recently, was not known for setting the pace when it came to technology.
"Weve had a somewhat negative image statewide over the past decade," said Ted Gaebler, chief administration officer (CAO) of Nevada County. He recounts problems due to a lack of IT standardization, no real IT policy, no technology refresh program, no pooling of funds or resources, a lack of collaboration and a poor Information Systems Department image.
But things began to change when the county hired Stephen Monaghan as CIO. Fresh out of the private sector, Monaghan quickly observed problems that those around him had grown accustomed to -- a county held back by IT silos and an internal culture that didnt foster collaboration between departments.
"Due to understaffing and no funding for upgrades or improvements, the IS department was literally running from one fire to another," said Monaghan. "Staff worked long hours, performed heroic feats, yet failed to satisfy the client base."
Monaghans first task was to update the countys three-year plan for automation. But how could the county provide the same services as larger counties with a fraction of the resources? Nevada Countys annual IT budget was only $3.2 million and its IT staff numbered 30. Monaghan decided to look outside the IS department for a new IT governance model.
"We looked for organizations that had accomplished the cultural shift from silos to an enterprise," he continued.
He received more than 50 plans from county and city IT departments courtesy of Gaebler. Clark County, Nev., for instance, had earlier commissioned a plan from KPMG. The consulting group recommended an IT governance model that caught Monaghans attention. He contacted Clark County.
"We received overwhelming support, information, insight and encouragement from Clark County, especially Tom War in the CIO office," said Monaghan. War explained that Clark County was three years into the transformation process and had learned several important lessons since writing the original plan. The most significant lesson prompted the county to directly connect all countywide IT investments, budget and funding into one governance model. This made the process more real and encouraged active participation from all departments. Further, only participating departments could receive funding for new IT projects. Benefiting from these lessons, Nevada County took one month to establish the IT framework that Clark County spent more than a year implementing.
In Monaghans experience, getting people to understand that an organization must have standards, share resources, centralize operations and share IT staff is not the challenge. Rather, gaining agreement on collective changes poses the biggest hurdle and is largely dependent on whether individual needs can be met. He believes this can only be achieved if employees have an open, safe, collaborative forum to solve IT issues. Without an approach that solves group and individual requirements, an IT principal ends up spreading limited resources over too many projects and spending all his or her time fighting political battles. "To get buy-in from all players, fragmented IT departments must give up the control and power to the business directors -- not an easy thing for your traditional IT director to do," he said.
Nevada Countys Model
Nevada Countys IT governance model has a three-tier structure with the Information Systems Steering Board (ISSB) occupying the highest level. This body is responsible for the establishment and oversight of the overall information technology investment program, and it is sponsored by the CAO and chaired by his deputy. The other members of this