Virginia's IT Efforts Move Ahead Despite Fiscal, Political Realities

"The biggest challenge has been the culture change. We're winning the war, but there has been some foot dragging, some reluctance to consolidate."

by / September 28, 2004
Virginia is still in the lead when it comes to state IT reform, but the job is far from finished. That's the assessment Gov. Mark Warner gave during an interview Monday at the Commonwealth of Virginia Information Technology Symposium (COVITS) in Norfolk, Va. IT consolidation, the cornerstone of the state's tech reform legislation, has achieved approximately $32 million in demonstrable savings out of an anticipated $100 million so far, according to Warner.

But much of the financial gain has come from changes in telecommunications contracts. "The major savings will come from hardware and software consolidation once the larger agencies are on board," he said. But consolidation of key agencies is moving slower than anticipated.

The stumbling block, however, has been cultural and political resistance to the kind of sweeping transformation the governor originally envisioned. "The original plan was to combine the IT operations of all the agencies on one day," said Warner. "But the legislature decided to phase in consolidation, starting with the smaller agencies and ending with the biggest ones later."

So far the consolidation effort is approximately two-thirds complete. "The biggest challenge has been the culture change. We're winning the war, but there has been some foot dragging, some reluctance to consolidate. We need another year to where it's fully institutionalized and can't be unwound," he said.

As far as the value gained from the state's IT strategic plan, Warner mentioned the Virginia's electronic procurement effort, known as eVA, which has processed billions of dollars in electronic purchases from suppliers. While critics have said start-up costs and annual fees are keeping women and minority businesses from participating in eVA, Warner countered that the opposite has happened. "eVA's technology makes it possible for women and minorities to compete with the big guys."

While some states are specializing the CIO position by adding chief security officers and chief technology officers to the ranks, Warner said that is not something he intends to do. "We have a strong position in the secretary of technology along with a separate CIO."

Warner did express interest in following in the footsteps of Massachusetts and California, both of which have either recommended or required their agencies to consider open source solutions along side offerings from the commercial software market for IT projects. Currently, Virginia has no such policy.

As for his willingness to use offshore outsourcing to cut IT costs, Warner pointed out that similar savings can be generated sometimes when low wage jobs, like those found in call centers, are moved from an expensive urban environment to the less costly rural sector. "New jobs in a rural, high unemployment area can have a positive ripple effect on the economy that goes far beyond the savings generated by outsourcing work to a less expensive country," he said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Warner announced that IBM will create 1,250 "high-end consulting" jobs in northern Va., as part of the firm's public sector consulting group.