"The Governor will soon be announcing an early retirement plan. Exact details are still in negotiation. However, only one in four employees will be replaced, one-third of our managers will likely leave, employees cannot come back on contract, contractors cannot be hired to fill voids and budgets will be cut equal to staffing cuts. We expect about 20 percent of your overall staff to leave. One more thing -- no additional overtime will be authorized."

Devastating news; fortunately it was just an exercise.

Oct. 1, 2009, Michigan's infrastructure directors were gathered offsite at a management planning meeting, and we were all relieved that our state government had just avoided a shutdown. We were immediately challenged with the above message from our public information officer. Some people seemed a bit stunned by the announcement; others were smiling, since they would be eligible to leave.

For decades, emergency management offices have used scenario-based planning exercises to test our ability to respond to natural disasters, and other emergencies. And more recently, to mitigate cyber-threats. We learned during the weeks and months after 9/11, organizations that prepare for the unexpected perform much better following emergency incidents.

Tabletop exercises can enhance communication, foster team building, improve coordination, clarify roles and help with issue identification. Going further, many businesses use scenario planning to improve all aspects of their service delivery.

But can responding to budget cut scenarios help technology teams improve? What if the budget cuts never happen? Might this be a waste of precious time? Our experience with scenario-based planning in Michigan demonstrates an excellent return on investment for all involved. Here's what we did -- and what you can do:

  • First, we asked our infrastructure directors to come to the meeting prepared. They brought org charts, office budgets, prioritized project plans, contract information, retirement eligibility lists and more. After setting the stage with the early out announcements, we discussed various aspects of the situation. What would you do first, second and third? How would you communicate to staff? What reaction do you anticipate? The discussion was lively, and stories revealed issues from previous early retirements in Michigan.
  • Next, directors were asked to list three core mission functions that couldn't fail in their areas. For essential government services to be maintained, these critical activities must go on no matter what else happens. Infrastructure examples included answering help-desk calls, ensuring e-mail delivery, providing desktop support and supplying network availability.
  • Each leader was also asked to identity three activities that could potentially stop in this new environment. This information was reported to the wider group, with constructive criticism offered by everyone during follow-up Q&A sessions. While flexibility and "outside the box" thinking were encouraged regarding delivery of various services, this process helped us clarify core missions for each infrastructure area.
  • Our conversation quickly turned to customer expectations. Several asked, "Can we really stop offering that service?" We discussed our service catalogs, rate structures and related service-level agreements. Using early-out ground rules, directors were tasked with clarifying staff allocation plans after the exercise.

Several weeks later, plans were discussed with selected customers. Some improvements are being implemented, while other changes will be saved in case of an early retirement or budget emergency.

What did we learn from the exercise?

  • When the future budget scenario changed, so did the level of discussion.
  • When "people issues" were addressed (under this scenario, many staff retired happily), different budget approaches emerged to open up new opportunities.
  • While some noncritical functions must continue under mandated budget cuts, these activities might be offered to customers at an hourly rate rather than eliminated. Each director went away with the task of identifying potential optional services.

I encourage you to challenge your team by offering a tabletop exercise with scenarios that include budget emergencies, such as an early retirement. You'll be surprised by what you learn.

Dan Lohrmann Dan Lohrmann  |  Contributing Writer

Daniel J. Lohrmann became Michigan's first chief security officer (CSO) and deputy director for cybersecurity and infrastructure protection in October 2011. Lohrmann is leading Michigan's development and implementation of a comprehensive security strategy for all of the state’s resources and infrastructure. His organization is providing Michigan with a single entity charged with the oversight of risk management and security issues associated with Michigan assets, property, systems and networks.

Lohrmann is a globally recognized author and blogger on technology and security topics. His keynote speeches have been heard at worldwide events, such as GovTech in South Africa, IDC Security Roadshow in Moscow, and the RSA Conference in San Francisco. He has been honored with numerous cybersecurity and technology leadership awards, including “CSO of the Year” by SC Magazine and “Public Official of the Year” by Governing magazine.

His Michigan government security team’s mission is to:

  • establish Michigan as a global leader in cyberawareness, training and citizen safety;
  • provide state agencies and their employees with a single entity charged with the oversight of risk management and security issues associated with state of Michigan assets, property, systems and networks;
  • develop and implement a comprehensive security strategy (Michigan Cyber Initiative) for all Michigan resources and infrastructure;
  • improve efficiency within the state’s Department of Technology, Management and Budget; and
  • provide combined focus on emergency management efforts.

He currently represents the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO) on the IT Government Coordinating Council that’s led by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He also serves as an adviser on TechAmerica's Cloud Commission and the Global Cyber Roundtable.

From January 2009 until October 2011, Lohrmann served as Michigan's chief technology officer and director of infrastructure services administration. He led more than 750 technology staff and contractors in administering functions, such as technical architecture, project management, data center operations, systems integration, customer service (call) center support, PC and server administration, office automation and field services support.

Under Lohrmann’s leadership, Michigan established the award-winning Mi-Cloud data storage and hosting service, and his infrastructure team was recognized by NASCIO and others for best practices and for leading state and local governments in effective technology service delivery.

Earlier in his career, Lohrmann served as the state of Michigan's first chief information security officer (CISO) from May 2002 until January 2009. He directed Michigan's award-winning Office of Enterprise Security for almost seven years.

Lohrmann's first book, Virtual Integrity: Faithfully Navigating the Brave New Web, was published in November 2008.  Lohrmann was also the chairman of the board for 2008-2009 and past president (2006-2007) of the Michigan InfraGard Member's Alliance.

Prior to becoming Michigan's CISO, Lohrmann served as the senior technology executive for e-Michigan, where he published an award-winning academic paper titled The Michigan.gov Story — Reinventing State Government Online. He also served as director of IT and CIO for the Michigan Department of Management and Budget in the late 1990s.

Lohrmann has more than 26 years of experience in the computer industry, beginning his career with the National Security Agency. He worked for three years in England as a senior network engineer for Lockheed Martin (formerly Loral Aerospace) and for four years as a technical director for ManTech International in a U.S./UK military facility.

Lohrmann is a distinguished guest lecturer for Norwich University in the field of information assurance. He also has been a keynote speaker at IT events around the world, including numerous SecureWorld and ITEC conferences in addition to online webinars and podcasts. He has been featured in numerous daily newspapers, radio programs and magazines. Lohrmann writes a bimonthly column for Public CIO magazine on cybersecurity. He's published articles on security, technology management, cross-boundary integration, building e-government applications, cloud computing, virtualization and securing portals.

He holds a master’s degree in computer science from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Valparaiso University in Indiana.

NOTE: The columns here are Dan Lohrmann's own views. The opinions expressed do not necessarily represent the state of Michigan's official positions.

Recent Awards:
2011 Technology Leadership Award: InfoWorld
Premier 100 IT Leader for 2010: Computerworld magazine
2009 Top Doers, Dreamers and Drivers: Government Technology magazine
Public Official of the Year: Governing magazine — November 2008
CSO of the Year: SC Magazine — April 2008
Top 25 in Security Industry: Security magazine — December 2007
Compass Award: CSO Magazine — March 2007
Information Security Executive of the Year: Central Award 2006