These states could have a shared benefits system that’s workable in as little as two to four years, according to the association. “I think this really is the way forward. We’ve scrutinized all aspects, and we think it does make the most sense,” Ansaldi said.
But there are still obstacles to overcome, and Robinson said those barriers tend to involve policy rather than technology. There are jurisdictional issues that need to be clarified. States, in some cases, have starkly different business rules, which will make using a shared system more difficult. Some states also have restrictions on cost recovery such that they couldn’t operate a shared system and charge other states a fee for using it, Robinson added. Also, it remains to be seen how these shared systems will be procured and managed. Will a consortium manage a system together, or will one state take the lead? But overall, these hurdles haven’t dampened enthusiasm for the concept.
“Clearly there is more interest in these multistate endeavors, particularly around the common functions that all states need to do — which would be ideal for a shared service operated by one state,” Robinson said. Similar to the UI consortia that are already under way, a few state CIOs such as Utah’s Fletcher have been pushing for support on shared MMIS. A coalition of western states is also going in together on an RFP for shared storage of GIS data — Colorado is one of them.
The multistate systems are one part of Colorado’s larger plan to update its legacy systems. Russell believes her state must also look within, at how it manages, budgets for and prioritizes its oldest computer systems. She doesn’t want any more “one-off” development of big, monolithic IT systems that can’t be upgraded as needs change.
Russell’s trying to get lawmakers, who hold the purse strings, to think about the sustainability of IT — and that means including ongoing maintenance, disaster recovery and security into the cost estimate of any new project. She plans to put forth new legislation that would codify this forward-looking strategy in Colorado. “What happens is that people get really fixated on the shiny new ball rolling across the table, and then they build the system and forget that grant funding ran out and they don’t know how to support it,” Russell said. “And that is why the systems get old.”
Russell also plans to build out a “comprehensive risk index” for all of the state’s IT systems — new and old. Each system will be assigned a numerical score, like a person’s cholesterol number or maybe a golf score. The higher the number, the worse off the system is. Russell wants this ranking number to dictate what system replacements are funded first and which are pushed down the list for later. The arithmetic will include the age of the system, what software it runs on and how secure it is. The business case also will be considered: Just because a system is old won’t necessarily mean it should be replaced right away.
The idea is to have a systemic picture of all of Colorado’s systems so that lawmakers can make informed funding decisions. Russell wants the state to have the necessary information to make proactive decisions instead of reacting after a system goes down. “We have a plan to not just solve the current problem,” she said, “but to solve the root cause of how we got here.”
Writer Colin Wood contributed to this story.