July 31, 2007 By Andy Opsahl
Utah's efforts to centralize technology mirror a national trend where state governments are searching for effective ways to consolidate their IT operations. Those efforts have produced everything from highly centralized IT management structures in states such as Michigan and Virginia, to loosely federated attempts in other areas.
The Utah state CIO job became a lot more consequential thanks to legislation passing all state IT authority over to the position in 2005. For years, Utah agencies controlled their own IT, essentially forcing the state CIO to sit and look pretty while they made their own hiring, firing and budget decisions over technology.
"We had somewhat of a paper tiger, and we wanted to create a true CIO position," said Utah Rep. David Clark.
Previous Utah state CIOs struggled to enact statewide consolidations because at least one agency would inevitably decline participation, hence the state created the Utah Department of Technology Services (DTS) and transformed all state IT workers into DTS employees. The governor appointed Stephen Fletcher state CIO to develop a transition process that satisfied all agencies and incorporated their input.
Fletcher now controls all state IT projects and has already cut costs. But, in a move to ensure that agency needs are met, the DTS assigned an IT director to each department. These directors act as liaisons between their agencies and the CIO, and discuss and suggest changes in resources or products that could improve operations.
Utah's approach seeks to gain the benefits of IT centralization without sacrificing the flexibility and specialized knowledge developed by agency-specific IT staff.
Giving the Tiger Teeth
The Utah Legislature passed HB 109 in April 2005, creating the DTS and setting up Fletcher to assume more power than any prior CIOs in the state's recent history.
"We had always had a CIO," Clark said, "but he did not have purse strings or hiring and firing responsibility."
In 2004, then-Utah CIO Val Oveson gave the Legislature several testimonials of his frustration over his lack of power to effect change in state IT, prompting Clark and state Sen. Beverly Evans to spend several months evaluating state agencies. They discovered that roughly 80 percent of the applications on agency computers statewide were the same.
Clark envisioned the efficiency gains that might result from centralizing maintenance of those applications under one agency. The idea was to streamline IT work for the staff, dividing the staff into groups that would each specialize in different aspects of state IT.
But he and Evans also found agencies were very nimble at developing applications for their specific needs. Those projects were best left under individual agency control, Clark said.
For example, the Utah Department of Transportation continues to create custom solutions for monitoring traffic and finding ways to more efficiently utilize agency assets.
"We don't need a 'one program fits all' for tasks like that," Clark said.
The difference is that now individual agencies must clear custom application projects with the DTS first. The individual staff members working in the specialization groups for statewide IT projects will physically remain in the agency offices that housed them before the IT authority shift.
Fletcher consolidated statewide mainframe maintenance, and cut $2.5 million from the state's $15 million mainframe budget. He used the extra money to roll out IT security-enhancing devices for all agencies, including physical security mechanisms, firewall improvements and newer screening technologies.
He also cut travel time and frequency for remote IT repair technicians.
Many Utah agencies had several offices located throughout the state, which made centrally servicing IT impractical. They hired remote IT repair technicians who traveled to the various offices, but it was an expensive solution, Fletcher said.
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