Talking IT consolidation these days is preaching to the choir. Once-unwilling state bureaucracies see the wisdom of merging IT operations. Now they are steering toward enterprise consolidation and beginning to reap the rewards.

Yet one area ripe for consolidation seems to have escaped notice -- government and education. Given the whopping percentage of a typical state's budget earmarked for education, why wouldn't consolidating state government and education IT get more attention?

The potential savings should be enough to make such consolidation attractive to many states, especially since cutting costs and driving efficiency in government is the mantra coming from state capitols over the past several years.

Government/education IT consolidation is the exception to the rule -- only a handful of state and local governments can boast of IT mergers of this sort. Among states, North Dakota embarked on a government/education consolidation plan in 2002, while at the local government level, Sarasota County, Fla., took the unusual step of designating one CIO to oversee IT operations for both the county government and the Sarasota County School District.

Come Together

Three years ago, North Dakota officially unveiled ConnectND, an ambitious plan to integrate the state's universities and government agencies into one administrative software platform enabling front-line staff to use common financial, and human- and student-resource management applications.

On Jan. 1, 2005, the final four North Dakota University System (NDUS) campuses went live with financial and human-resource software, said North Dakota CIO Curtis Wolfe, completing the 11 campus rollout.

The groundwork for ConnectND began in the late 1990s, when the NDUS sought funding approval from the Legislature and the governor to replace an archaic set of applications and technologies.

"Higher ed felt that, to remain competitive against other university systems outside the state, it was important for them to get more modern in their technology and create more services available on the Web," Wolfe recalled. "They were really strongly promoting this and had done so previously, but never got the right funding to actually move forward."

The state also had its share of problems with legacy systems, Wolfe said.

"We didn't have a human resources management system [HRMS], we just had a payroll system," he explained. "On the financial side, we had a 25-year-old system that had been modified extensively and was becoming more costly to continue to support. There was a need in state government, it's just that we weren't promoting it as aggressively as higher ed was."

The NDUS originally tried to secure $21 million for a PeopleSoft ERP implementation, but couldn't convince the Legislature or executive branch to approve the request.

Wolfe said his department and NDUS representatives hit on the idea of pursuing a consolidation project as a way to convince the Legislature to approve funding. Both branches clearly needed a new platform to run their operations, he said, so why not consolidate?

"If you look at what we paid PeopleSoft and Maximus, as our implementation partner, we were able to get all state government and all of higher ed done for approximately what the bid was for higher ed in the late '90s, just on a stand-alone basis," Wolfe said. "Certainly the state benefited from a joint initiative, and that's how we sold it to the Legislature."

On the Same Page?

Since then, the state and the NDUS have built on the initial joint procurement and installation of common back-office applications to expand into other areas of consolidation.

"We host the financial and human-resource systems for higher ed and state government here at the state's data center," Wolfe said. "They host the student administration system so we don't even have replicated databases and separate hardware configurations. We've operationally merged to where we're jointly processing

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor