It's been just over a year since New York Gov. George Pataki made an unprecedented move in tackling the state's decentralized information technology community and appointed a task force on Information Resource Management, chaired by Director of State Operations James Natoli. Comprised of the state's most influential information resource directors, the task force has been charged with establishing a statewide agenda for New York's technology and was given three goals:
To save money.
To improve communication within and among state agencies and levels of government.
To make doing business with and within the state easier.
New York, third in the nation on information technology spending, was operating without a chief information officer or a centralized information technology office. The question for this new administration was: How do you bring together these disparate folks, take advantage of their technological knowledge, expertise and experience, and make it work together for the first time? To begin answering that question, they chose Camaron Thomas as task force director.
Thomas, a 15-year veteran of New York state government, came to the task force from the Division of the Budget where she successfully coordinated a statewide effort for procurement reform. She is not a technologist, and said that the Governor's Office specifically was looking for someone who was not a technology person to direct the task force. "A chief information officer was not needed," she said. "What was needed was a coordinating entity working with the expertise that's out there, not some top dog issuing orders."
She now has over 70 workgroups, developing policies and practices to take on a full range of technology issues ranging from Internet to help desks. And New York's IT community seems pleased with the progress thus far. Leo Carroll, director of systems for the Division of Criminal Justice Services, thinks the task force "has done a good job as a catalyst to move issues and get groups of information systems people and agency managers working together to focus on the large issues that impact the state. They have done very little mandating, instead emphasizing best practices, preferred standards and guidelines in their approach with the agencies." Laura Iwan, director of Heathcomm at the Department of Health, agreed. As a workgroup leader for security issues, Iwan remarked that the task force has "fostered levels of communication between agencies never before achieved."
The task force staff is comprised of 18 people, handpicked by Thomas from all disciplines, including architecture, information technology, project management, financial management and legal counsel. Staff are all "on loan" from their respective agencies.
"If you think you have the answers," said Thomas, "New York will eat you alive. You have to listen to others." When asked what she was most proud of after her first year, Thomas said "getting as many people as possible to participate in the process of this change."
Because of New York's size and diversity, the task force strives to make the most of what the state already has. One way is designating what it calls "best practices" and making them available to all state and local agencies.
Over the years, nearly every large state agency in New York independently developed their own administrative systems in such areas as financial management, human resource management and vehicle maintenance. To tap into investments like these, the task force created a Standing Subcommittee on Best Practices. The subcommittee meets bimonthly and focuses on a particular administrative area. The committee reviews applications submitted by agencies against overall standards for functionality, cost, service, support and vision for the future. After judging the "entries" the subcommittee selects the "best practice" which is adopted by the state. Future agencies seeking to develop new applications in this area are directed to the state's best practices. This approach is intended to reduce fees for consultants