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Portfolio Management Tools: Lessons From King County, Washington

County IT portfolio manager shares what his team learned when they moved from spreadsheets to a real management tool.

As most IT portfolio managers know, the key to project and application portfolio management is balance. Sometimes it's between the potential benefits of new projects against the ROI of completing more mature projects. Or it's about managing the quantity of development languages and databases used for legacy applications for existing systems. Having the right decision-making information can be especially challenging for government at the county level: Multitudes of Excel spreadsheets all telling a different story just doesn't cut it.

In King County, Washington's Department of Information Technology (KCIT), we recognized that we needed a project and application portfolio management system to better track IT projects, IT project budget requests and software applications. We learned a number of lessons acquiring and deploying a portfolio management system.

The goals at KCIT for project and application management included providing a central location of easily accessible and up-to-date project and application information, early identification of troubled projects, better awareness and improved communication on project and application status, along with lower costs and reduced time for data entry and report generation.

[ How can agile development principles help IT save time and money? Read 3 Agile Government Myths, Busted. ]

A request for proposal was published in September 2011, and eight IT portfolio management system proposals were received and evaluated, with a contract awarded to Innotas for its Cloud Portfolio Management solution in January 2012. Implementation teams were created with staff from a variety of organizations including Adult and Juvenile Detention, Natural Resources and Parks, Transportation, Elections, KCIT, Office of Performance Strategy and Budget, Public Health and Superior Court.

Getting started with an IT portfolio management solution had several challenges. Due to the number of staff members involved with this collaborative project, there were many ideas on how and when to get the project done without adding unnecessary work for our team.

The value of the system for the overall organization was a big plus, but it was weighed against the workloads required to enter and maintain the data. There was also some resistance to change in implementing a software-as-a-service solution.

Once we formulated a game plan, it took about seven months to organize and train the teams on Innotas, decide on the needed configurations, and implement and test the system. Training and rollout to end users began in September 2012 for both the project and application portfolio management systems.

Where Are We Now?

Application data has been loaded into our Innotas system, which includes the different development languages and databases required for each application. We have over 1600 software applications currently in the system, and over 80 fields for each application. This type of information provides management with insight into the diverse number of development languages and databases used throughout the county, and the different skills required to support them. Over time, we can use this as a baseline with a goal to move to a more standardized environment with fewer development languages and databases to support.

Currently we have about 70 technology projects that are tracked in the system. Monthly portfolio status and risk reports are generated indicating different risk levels for each project, allowing the CIO and other stakeholders to get early warnings about potential project issues.

We also began tracking IT project budget requests for our 2014 budget process in our Innotas portfolio management system. The system provides a centralized location for storing budget request data and documentation, and utilizes a workflow so that reviewers can easily access, review and approve or reject each request.

Managing an IT portfolio management system is not without its challenges, especially when processes need to be created to support data input. The project tracking and project budget requests modules have been the most successful to date, as there were already countywide processes in place before the implementation of Innotas. For application tracking, the challenge is collecting all of the information necessary to load the system, and to maintain this data over time. Eventually, we hope to have application information indicating the total cost of ownership and number of support hours required to support every application.

Lessons Learned

Critical to the success of the project was the commitment of our steering committee, which provided resources for the project implementation team, application implementation team and other teams critical to the success of the project. The steering committee also provided critical direction and guidance to the project.

If we had it to do all over again, we might have utilized smaller tactical teams to work through gathering consensus and representation across the organization. As with any project, user acceptance and support is ultimately critical to the ongoing use and value of the tools deployed.

For the next phase of our IT management system rollout, we plan to change the Innotas project tracking system to accommodate new project status reporting and baseline processes, create additional reports and dashboards and prioritize which application data to collect.

Even though it hasn't been simple or a quick fix, we have found value in doing the work to implement an IT project and application portfolio solution. With the initial structure in place, we have better information and insights to view our portfolios across our organization, and a better view into the future.

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User Rank: Author
10/25/2013 | 9:32:55 PM
re: Portfolio Management Tools: Lessons From King County, Washington
King County does a lot of innovative work at the local government level. Thanks to Gary for sharing this story.
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