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.

Bob Evans, Contributor

February 11, 2009

4 Min Read

As a result of this and some other successes, Farley said, word has been getting around among state CIOs that the new IT leaders in Sacramento can deliver more than just happy talk. "In this economic situation, with reduced resources available to not only state IT but also the business side, a number of agency and departmental officials are coming to us and saying, 'We want you to show us how we can use technology to improve our processes, or go to shared infrastructure, or some of the other new ideas we've been rolling out.' That's where we can add value."

In fact, in their survey of IT needs across the state's huge public-sector infrastructure -- California has about 217,000 state employees -- Takai and Farley have identified six core technologies that they believe can be leveraged widely across multiple agencies and applications: geographic/geospatial information systems; business intelligence; transaction processing; enterprise content management; CRM; and case management. This revelation has now been codified into the state's IT project-evaluation process, Farley said, and the cumulative impact can be seen in the recently released IT Capital Plan.

"If there was no Office of the CIO" -- Takai's new cabinet-level position -- "and no capital-planning process, and 85 different departments across the state had submitted 210 project proposals, which they in fact did do, then all of those 210 projects requested by those 85 departments would have gone forward over 5-10 years with no visibility into what their peers were investing in, and no collaboration across different groups," Farley said.

Within the new order, though, the mindset is changing: "Before, there was a much greater focus on where the money was coming from instead of what those dollars were going toward, and what value they would deliver. So in the new process, of the 210 proposals submitted, we turned down 88, either because we felt they didn't deliver enough business value or they were simply not aligned with the state's goals."

Takai has made a true believer out of Carolyn Lawson, CIO for the California Public Utilities Commission (and, we're delighted to say, a new member of the InformationWeek Editorial Advisory Board). It was Lawson who lauded Takai as "the bravest woman on the planet" and Lawson also emphasized the huge impact Takai has had on CIO-to-CIO communication within the state, particularly during these rotten economic times.

"We CIOs around the state really wanted there to be a statewide CIO," Lawson said. "We always felt disconnected... . Before Teri arrived, we all had hymnals but were singing different songs." But in the past year, Lawson said, "We're seeing much healthier CIO communication -- for example, in the past there was great resistance to a single statewide e-mail system. And while there's no mandate that we have to use it, it's started here or there, and it's caught on, and we hear very good things about it, and everyone's seeing the benefits."

Lawson also admires the level of discipline Takai and her team have instituted, even if, as is so often the case, the discipline is not exactly warmly embraced when it's first being enforced. "One thing that really helped was the survey that all the CIOs had to fill out -- nobody wanted to do it because we had to answer things like how many employees do you have, and what suppliers do you use. But now, we can all take a glance at the results and see what others of the same size are doing and get some valuable ideas."

Discipline, collaboration, visibility, transparency, business value, cost-control -- these foundations that Takai and her team have instilled represent the very antithesis of what California's IT operations had become before her arrival just over a year ago. There's much to be done in the next two years -- actually, just 22-1/2 months -- and it might end up that the situation was so hopelessly screwed up before Takai's arrival that it will be many more years before it's corrected. But at least through December 2010, Takai will no doubt stick to those core fundamentals.

"It will require persistence, staying on message, staying consistent on the objectives we've laid out," she said. "When we get impatient and want to take shortcuts, we have to catch ourselves and step back and remember to stay on message. If we do that, we'll be fine."

About the Author(s)

Bob Evans


Bob Evans is senior VP, communications, for Oracle Corp. He is a former InformationWeek editor.

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