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California's DOIT Closes Up Shop

Recommendations to Gov. Davis on the future of IT oversight in the state are scheduled to be delivered on July 1.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The state's Department of Information Technology will cease operations Friday, bringing an end to its seven-year existence.

"They're moving furniture and equipment out of here and most of the staff is gone," said Kevin Terpstra, DOIT's director of communications. "We're down to about 10 people."

The DOIT, established in 1995 to steer the state clear of IT-related system failures, was embroiled in a contract scandal that erupted in California early this year over an enterprise license agreement signed with Oracle.

The $95 million deal, skewered as a potential money loser for the state, generated significant heat for DOIT, agency heads that approved the deal and other high-ranking staff of the governor's office.

Four officials have resigned as a result of the contract scandal, which hit its zenith when an investigative committee in the state's Assembly conducted a series of high-profile hearings on the deal.

The California Department of Justice is also investigating the contract.

The director of DOIT, Elias Cortez, resigned on June 11 after being suspended in early May by Gov. Gray Davis over the contract scandal. Davis appointed John Clark Kelso as interim director of the DOIT in mid May.

What the Future Might Hold
Kelso has been working on a set of recommendations concerning the future of IT oversight in the state and is scheduled to deliver that report to the governor on July 1. Though not willing to divulge specifics from the report, Kelso did outline several themes that his recommendations will contain.

"First, we have to have a clearer assignment of roles and responsibilities for IT planning, management, procurement and project management," Kelso said. "There's been some overlap -- and certainly some confusion -- about which agency or department is ultimately responsible for which aspect of the entire life cycle of an IT project.

"Second, there needs to be some mechanism by which we can have public input and public vetting of IT projects," he continued. "There's a question about exactly when the right time for that to occur is because you don't want have a system that grinds to a halt because you have so many requirements for public meetings. There is a need to have some public input into some of the major IT projects and procurement decisions -- putting a little sunshine into the process is, I think, a good thing to do.

"Third, there is a need to align our IT governance structure with the actual structure of California state government," Kelso said. "California government is very large, very dispersed; we have constitutionally independent officers; we have independent boards and commissions; and even within the executive branch, departments have a significant amount of autonomy. In light of this type of dispersed governance structure, you have to have your IT structure aligned with that in some manner."

Kelso said there is a need for leadership, coordination and collaboration at a statewide, enterprise level because certain issues do influence all state departments and agencies and other issues influence various groups of departments and agencies.

"At the same time, we have to recognize and live within the reality that in California state government, as is true of governments everywhere, you are dealing with dispersed powers," he said.

A Place In The Cabinet?
Kelso said he's not entirely convinced that an IT oversight office in California should be in the governor's cabinet. Talk of the necessity of having a CIO on the governor's cabinet centered, at first, on the need for the CIO to be close to the governor so the CIO could carry out the governor's -- and the legislature's -- IT vision and policy.

"Once the policy is set, though, it's less clear to me that having a seat at the Cabinet table is necessary or even advisable," he said. "Most of what you're going to be doing is operational level change. What's going to drive that is the individual business needs of departments and agencies, and I'm not so certain that that's something that it's really necessary or appropriate to be having weekly or monthly briefings to the governor or the cabinet about how well we're doing in converting this testing process to a paper-based process to an electronic process."

Another reason Kelso said he's not sure an IT oversight office belongs in the cabinet is author Peter Drucker's observation that technology's impact on an organization isn't as great at the highest policy-making level as it is at the operational level of an organization.

This doesn't mean that certain IT-related issues don't need to be decided at a high level in a state government, he said, though he questions the number of those decisions.

"There are certain sorts of technology functions and projects where it's clear that the enterprise-wide approach is the most cost-effective approach," he said. "For those, you'd have the strongest argument that you need to have that type of decision vetted at the highest levels. But the reality is that the number of those decisions, the number of those enterprise-wide issues, is not all that great. Whether you're formally in the cabinet or not, those issues can percolate up to the right level."

Waiting Game
What the governor will decide to do with Kelso's recommendations remains to be seen.

"One way or the other, there will continue to be a focus on IT governance, procurement and project management," Kelso said. "You have to have those things happening. It would be irresponsible for the administration to say, 'OK, DOIT is gone, we're not going to perform DOIT's functions anymore.'"

Those functions will continue, he said, but exactly how those functions will happen still needs to be worked out.

"The governor's office is aware that a lot of people are waiting for this and want some guidance," Kelso said. "At the same time, I think it's much more important to make the right decision here than it is to make a quick one. If we have a week or two-week delay in which projects have to stand in place, that's not necessarily a bad thing. We have many projects that are critical; that are on tough deadlines; that have to push forward; but we're in communication with all the departments and agencies about what we anticipate they should be doing until we have further guidance."

At press time, the governor's office had not responded to requests for clarification of how long the governor will take to respond to Kelso's recommendations.