Disaster Recovery: Can California CIO Defy Odds And Fix State's IT Mess? - InformationWeek
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Bob Evans
Bob Evans

Disaster Recovery: Can California CIO Defy Odds And Fix State's IT Mess?

Global CIO takes a look at the heavy lifting that faces California CIO Teri Takai and team as they modernize the state's IT infrastructure.

"She's the bravest woman -- well, man or woman -- on the planet," says one CIO colleague.

She was called "the best" by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, who recruited her by declaring "I need you to lead this effort for California."

She says "I'm the type of person who likes a challenge," which is a very good thing not only because the situation she inherited was a certified mess, but also because the governor expects her to make California's crazy-quilt IT operation the equal of any private-sector shop in the state.

She's got only two years to get that done before term limits push the governor and his appointees, including her, aside.

And when asked what in the world she was thinking when she decided 13 months ago to jump into California's wildly disconnected and out-of-control IT circus as the state's first CIO, she lets loose a first-rate belly laugh and says, "You know, to tell you the truth, there are some days when I wonder that myself!"

So Teri Takai, California's first statewide CIO, has about 23 months left to complete a massive assignment that, if successful, would transform California's massive, uncoordinated, aging, expensive, and sometimes-aimless IT sprawl into a collaborative and intelligent network of citizen-centered services with less drain on taxpayer funds. To achieve that, here are some of the top issues Takai and her team are tackling and must overcome:

• Work with 144 CIOs across the state to establish consistent and forward-looking IT governance strategies for the 14 agencies and 130 departments in which those 144 CIOs operate.

• Inspire all of those CIOs but particularly the 14 agency-level CIOs to begin breaking down the traditional silos that have led to redundant projects, inefficient spending, and status-quo thinking and performance.

• Understand what the state's approximately 10,000 IT workers do, and then refine those responsibilities to match the top priorities.

• Rationalize and cut back a frightening list of megaprojects Takai inherited, some forecast to run 10 years or more, that arose from the state's former disjointed and uncoordinated IT operations.

• Continue enforcing policies aimed at eliminating spending on equipment or projects not in line with the state's overall priorities.

• Identify what IT assets the state has and continue bringing those into the 21st century in line with not only the current budget constraints but also future strategic needs.

This list could easily be extended -- for example, while 10,000 is clearly a big number of IT employees, Takai says that 50% of them will be eligible to retire within the next five years, and while that level of attrition poses multiple problems, one of the most serious is that some of those older employees are the only ones who know how to run some of the Cretaceous-era systems within the state's far-flung IT archipelago.

And recall, too, that Takai's mandate from Schwarzenegger is not just to whip things into shape a bit and modernize some stuff so that California rates well versus the IT operations of other states. No, as Takai put it, "In the governor's eyes, he wants California to be seen as a leader in how technology is used in everything we do because he wants to show the technology companies and other companies headquartered here that the state's IT can be a leader not just among states but that we can run our technology operations as effectively as do the tech businesses that are based here in California."

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Yes, it's a good thing that Teri Takai likes challenges. Another one is her mandate to cut IT spending by $1.5 billion over the next five years, even as the state hustles to replace some systems that are 30 or 35 years old. Adrian Farley, who is Takai's chief deputy director for policy and program management, said some state systems still run Assembler, which underscores the urgency of some of the IT-modernization efforts.

Farley said the state's new approach to IT projects has led to a savings of $33 million on an IT-modernization effort within the state's prison system. "We changed the deployment plan that had been on the table. With a new communications system linking all 33 prisons, which is a very necessary capability, the original plan was a big-bang approach in getting all the prisons connected at once. We've changed that so we're now phasing it in, and as a result it's on time and on budget."

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