Photo: Missouri Deputy CIO for Operations Bill Bott (L) receiving a 2006 American Business Award.

Government and innovation. Many would argue the two don't go together. But on the final day of NASCIO's midyear conference in Chantilly, Va., representatives from four states presented strong evidence that innovation is alive and well in the public sector.

Against a backdrop of plunging revenue in a number of states and a rising tide of challenges, ranging from health care costs to decreasing competitiveness, current and former IT executives from Missouri, Colorado, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia highlighted different aspects of innovation in state IT programs.

In Missouri, a consolidation drive, led by CIO Dan Ross, had resulted in a massive overhaul of how information is now shared among 14 executive departments. The effort, not without its problems and challenges, has brought both benefits and a better understanding of the criteria for fostering innovation in government, according to William Bott, Missouri's deputy CIO for operations.

"We learned four valuable lessons from this project," said Bott. "First of all, you've got to know your customers, whether they are citizens, the legislative branch, agency workers and even the governor. They all had a different view of what consolidation would be about," he explained. "You have to know their expectations."

"Second, sell the thrill of the drive," he continued. Car dealers don't sell a car based on the type of wheels it has. Nor should an IT department try to sell consolidation based on components. "Instead, we focused on outcomes first and then talked about how we were going to get there," he said. Third, let measurements do your marketing. "We all know we are adding value, but you have to show the legislature movement [through quantifiable outcomes], if you want to get the money," he said.

Finally, Bott contradicted the common wisdom of going after low-hanging fruit to score victories in government IT. " We decided to tackle the biggest things first. We let the small stuff take care of itself. Big impact equals big momentum."

In Pennsylvania, the challenge was implementation of a statewide ERP system that included financials and procurement. Dubbed Imagine PA, former project director Don Edmiston, now a consultant with BearingPoint, described the project that changed the state's mission. "This project wasn't about ROI," he said. And yet, by tapping the private sector to help with the business process management and integration issues, the ERP [enterprise resource planning] project, completed in 2004, is reaping sweeping benefits that include lower overall operation costs for Pennsylvania. "Unlike many other states, Pennsylvania will have a surplus," he pointed out.

The key challenges lay with change management involving the workers whose jobs would be affected by ERP. Innovation lay in how the state worked with the various parties, including the public sector unions, to ensure workers understood fully what was happening. The second innovation came from the core team of staff who saw the project through to completion. We did everything we could, including the use of financial incentives, to keep the best people on the team throughout the project, explained Edmiston.

Colorado, like Missouri is tackling enterprisewide consolidation to generate efficiencies and value with its IT investments. Ron Huston, CIO for the state's Department of Human Services, explained how state CIO Michael Locatis, working with Gov. Bill Ritter, has laid the groundwork for what could be groundbreaking legislation that will ensure IT has a seat at the table regarding policy agendas for years to come.

The innovative legislation (now on the governor's desk awaiting his signature), came about much as Missouri's consolidation and Pennsylvania's ERP effort did: through extensive preparation and a heavy emphasis on communications to ensure everybody's questions were answered promptly and

Tod Newcombe, Editor  |  Editor, Public CIO