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Louisiana Audit Critical of IT Agency's Customer Service

The Louisiana Legislative Auditor's performance report complained about the lack of a comprehensive service catalog and poor project tracking, but the state CIO said the audit didn't capture all that the department does.

Louisiana state capitol in Baton Rouge
<a href="" target="_blank">Shutterstock/Fang Deng</a>
Complaints from various Louisiana state departments spurred a review of the Office of Technology Services (OTS) by the Legislative Auditor, but CIO Richard “Dickie” Howze feels that the audit’s scope was too narrow in some instances.

The report, released Monday, chronicles staffing challenges brought on by retirements and vacancies; the lack of a comprehensive service catalog; and a failure to track agencies’ IT projects requiring varying levels of oversight; among other complaints. Auditors concluded their year-long work before the November ransomware attack that crippled some state servers and services. The authors noted that the cyberattack did not affect their findings.

The 2018 survey responsible for the look into the IT agency asked 77 employees spread across 18 departments about OTS’ service delivery. The survey identified poor communication and a deficiency in accountability and transparency, according to the report.

Performance Audit Manager Krista Baker-Hernandez said auditors wrote the report along the lines of the feedback from other departments and identified areas where OTS could improve its customer experience.

“There are some areas that they’re working to improve, and they have improved,” Baker-Hernandez said. “I think the report highlights other areas that they might not have focused on until now that they could improve upon.”

From the OTS’ perspective, Howze remarked in his written response to the audit that “the full depth of this [organization's] complexity is not fully understood nor has enough credit been given for the immense progress” of OTS since its inception in 2014.

Speaking with Government Technology, Howze said his agency has made significant strides in the past six years, including IT standardization that did not exist when agencies independently operated isolated IT divisions.

“I kind of equate it to putting together a number of companies creating a very large organization — Having to merge together all of the people and all of the processes in order to achieve accomplishments,” Howze said.

A contentious recommendation was the creation of a catalog so that departments would have a better understanding of available services and costs. Baker-Hernandez said providing a catalog of information would increase OTS’ transparency and is a common product provided by the other state IT agencies that auditors reviewed, which included Alabama, Maine, Minnesota, Mississippi, Texas and Utah.

Howze said there are too many services for a proper catalog to be produced in a short timeframe. He expounded on this in his written response stating that a service catalog alone would not help an agency determine its overall costs, but that a thorough analysis of a department’s business needs, which OTS would be a part of, should resolve transparency issues.

“Some of these services are handled in a different way,” he said. “There is a migration process to get to a more standard offering, therefore some of the items on the list are going to take a little bit longer than other ones.”

The goal of performance audits in Louisiana, Baker-Hernandez said, is to get to the root cause of issues negatively impacting state departments. The authors established criteria from consolidation efforts in neighboring states as well as an IT consolidation plan that Deloitte  produced in 2014. She said a usual timeline for the Legislative Auditor to follow up is around three years.

Howze said he appreciated the work of the auditors overall and that his agency is continually asking for feedback from its customers on avenues toward improvement.

“It’s critical that as OTS continues to mature that we be given the latitude and understanding of the depth and breadth of this engagement,” he wrote in his response. “OTS has come a long way, but we recognize that there is room for improvement.”

Patrick Groves was a staff writer for Government Technology from 2019 to 2020.
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