Prioritizing IT projects proposed by various agencies within a local government sometimes can make IT leaders into villains -- especially by the agencies assigned lower spots in the pecking order.

But the IT staff in Tacoma, Wash., found a way to avoid that trap. They deployed "on-demand IT governance" software to automate the analysis of what the city's IT staff could realistically finish over the course of a month. Based on that analysis, agency representatives then vote each month on the Tacoma IT Department's priorities. This enables IT priorities to come from the end-users themselves, rather than what could be construed as arbitrary judgments of IT officials.

"We're making decisions based on facts and data as opposed to emotion and organizational norms," said Bradd Busick, manager of change management for Tacoma.

Each month, after agencies electronically submit their project requests, the city's IT staff enter the project descriptions into software from Innotas. The software analyzes how labor intensive each project is in relation to the city's limited IT resources. The software then gives order-of-priority options on which the agencies vote. For example, the software might report that if the city made a Human Resources Department project its No.1 priority, the IT staff would only have enough workers and time remaining to also complete the water department's project that month.

By contrast, if agencies voted to push the HR project to the following month, IT employees would have enough time and resources to complete five other projects that aren't as time consuming during the month at hand. The HR representative would need to make a strong case to the other departments that his or her department's project was worth putting off other departments' priorities until the following month. IT employees sit relaxed on the sidelines and use the set of priorities the vote produces. If agencies decide later that they don't like the list of priorities, they have their own judgment to blame, not that of the IT staff.

"There is always a bit of mystery to what happens behind the closed doors of IT. This lifts the veil and shows that if we have only 85 IT people, we can only do 'X' amount of work," Busick said.

An agency submits its project using Innotas software and can later use the software to observe a project's progress in real time. The software also calculates the amount of work IT employees have done for various agencies over a given period of time.

"They're able to see that last month, for example, 25 percent of the work we did was for the power utility," Busick remarked. "If you're an agency that is paying for IT, you want to know how much they're working for you."

Innotas is a software-as-a-service product, meaning the vendor hosts it and delivers the application through the Web. "From a cost perspective, it makes a lot of sense for a government because we don't have to host any hardware onsite," Busick explained.

The city paid Innotas a $50,000 one-time fee for 150 employees to use the software.

Busick said he has noticed an increase in the number of projects his team has been able to complete since deploying on-demand IT governance. And fewer errors have occurred. Busick expects to have calculations showing those improvements in September.

Andy Opsahl  |  Features Editor