Steve Fletcher (full profile) is chief information officer for the State of Utah. Governing Executive Editor Steve Towns talked to Fletcher about sharing services, consolidating IT systems and Utah's four-day workweek. Here is an abridged and edited version of the interview:
When Gov. Jon Huntsman appointed you Utah state CIO in 2005, what was your mandate?
I was brought in with a charge to consolidate. Utah was one of the first states that had actual consolidation legislation, as opposed to a governor's executive order. I also had the governor's support. I knew the governor, and he wanted someone with both private- and public-sector experience, which I had. People come into government from the private sector with great ideas, but they don't know how to get anything done in a government environment. You have to be able to use the system, and Jon Huntsman understood that.
What was the first thing you did?
I knew I needed to get the agencies on board, so during my first two months in office, I talked to every agency's executive director, and I said, "What do you do, and how can IT help you do things better?" It was an eye opener for them and for me.
We also needed to understand how much we were paying for the state's IT activities. We had no idea what our IT budget was because it was all in the agencies, and they didn't have line items for IT, it was just part of their program. That was frustrating, particularly for the Legislature.
How did you address that problem?
The consolidation legislation authorized me to bring all agency IT employees into my organization, so that's what I did. By doing that, all the costs of those folks were now known to me. Therefore, I could put together what the cost of IT was for the state. Even though all those former agency employees now reported to me, I left them where they were. But we started tracking service levels and gathering cost information to create a baseline. I did that for about 18 months, which was longer than a lot of people would have liked. But we had to do that in order to make progress, because until that point, we weren't able to measure what we were doing. We weren't able to define our success.
What impact did consolidation have on the state workforce?
Our legislation is probably the most progressive of its type because IT workers went from merit status to at-will employment. To get around the unions, the change was voluntary -- I couldn't compel state workers to give up their merit status. So I incentivized them. If you wanted to hang on to your merit status, you could do that and work in the same position. If you wanted to take another position, you'd have to give up your merit status. I offered them a three-step pay increase to give that up. I told the Legislature I would pay for that out of our efficiency savings. It was a pretty hefty dollar amount, as you can imagine. But 95 percent of the employees changed over. And that remaining 5 percent were often the folks who needed to be concerned about being at-will employees. A lot of them have since been terminated or they left, so we're just about 100 percent at-will now.
We started with about 1,000 employees, and we've reduced that number by about 200. We've terminated folks for cause. If they weren't doing well, we told each manager they had to deal with these problems. If those employees go elsewhere, that's fine, it's not a big deal. We can compete, we can get the skills we need, and we've used that to reduce our workforce.
What was the impact of consolidation overall?
It's all about providing better service with reduced cost. And probably the best example of that as one of the things we did was server consolidation. We had 1,900 servers and consolidated them down to about 450 servers, and we saved $4 million out of our operating budget. But along the way, we dramatically improved our service. We bought new hardware, we virtualized them, we had virtualized storage and it's actually providing better capabilities, more processing, than we had by huge amounts. As an example, our payroll used to take 30 hours to run; it now runs in about four hours and 25 minutes. So that's a huge savings. From a cost standpoint and a performance standpoint, it's a wonderful win-win situation, so why wouldn't you do that?
How do you hold employees accountable?
Every morning, we go through what we call the Sunrise Report, which are metrics that show the condition of our IT environment. Every agency reports in, and we know on a daily basis what the status is. It gives us a lot of visibility into exactly where our problems are. So then we can say, 'How are we solving this? How are we taking care of it?'
How were you involved in the governor's 2008 decision to adopt a four-day workweek for Utah state government?
So you have a governor who's thinking outside the box. He says, "We're going to change our service delivery model. Can we do this?" He asked the director of administrative services how much money we could save, and he asked me if we could continue to provide access to government through online services. It was the coolest thing in the world-it was a little scary actually.
Were you sweating a little bit?
Oh yeah, because he put me on the spot. This is a Cabinet meeting, and he said, "Can we do this?" and he's looking at me, and if I commit to it, then I've got to deliver. He didn't want to hear, "Yes governor, we can do this, but it will cost you $10 million to get to that point." He said, "Can you do this right now?" And luckily we were able to say yes.
Utah probably has one of the highest percentages of computer usage within home and business per capita of any state. That put pressure on us to make sure we had more services online. We'd been working toward that, because we knew what our population liked. We were lucky that we had a lot of online services already in place by the time the governor decided to do this. If you can't provide those services, the initiative would fail miserably. We started with about 850 online services and now we're over 920.
Were there any big surprises once the four-day week was implemented?
Well, we didn't get as much energy savings as we thought. Part of that was because we have a lot of shared buildings, and we couldn't power down all the buildings we wanted to. And energy costs dropped.
We also got complaints from people who had to come into a motor vehicle office to take a driver's license test. So we opened a few offices on Fridays. In the rural part of the state, it wasn't necessary. But we opened a few in Salt Lake County, which is our biggest county. We made an adjustment, and we went forward.
The four-day workweek also has become a great recruiting tool for IT talent. I am generally competitive for these scarce resources. Some companies will pay them more, but I can offer them better benefits. We offer a chance to work on cool projects and give you a three-day weekend throughout your career. A lot of folks are now saying, "I'll consider working for the state because it's a great place to work."
Photo by M. Bryan Thompson