Ellen Perlman was a GOVERNING staff writer and technology columnist.E-mail: email@example.com
Two years ago, Missouri's new governor, Matt Blunt, and the state's new chief information officer, Dan Ross, had a vision: an efficient, centralized, streamlined IT operation that delivered each cabinet agency the services it needed while relieving the agencies of the considerable burden of managing an IT shop. Accomplishing this goal meant consolidating the technology operations of 14 agencies, with thousands of employees and more than $250 million in funding among them.
Ross realized this effort required a leader with organizational skills, not necessarily technical expertise. And he decided that Bill Bott was just the person for the job. It was a good choice: Bott's management and customer-relations skills enabled Missouri to accomplish in less than 24 months what other states have labored for years to do.
At the time of his appointment as deputy CIO for operations, Bott already had established a reputation as an effective change agent. In the mid-1990s, while a civilian working for the Air Force, he won an award for bringing quality-improvement practices into the defense arena. After joining state government in 1999, he worked on a pair of initiatives that looked for business-practice efficiencies in the public sector.
When Bott took his current position in late 2005, he was given the equivalent of, in his words, "a Monopoly get-out-of-jail-free card" to implement massive changes in the state's IT systems and resources. In relatively short order, Bott facilitated the development of a strategic plan and the design of the new organizational structure. He then drew on his experience in marketing to sell the plan to the legislature and state employees.
Critical to getting their buy-in to relinquish control of IT was building confidence in the services they would receive as a result. Bott wanted Missouri to avoid creating detailed legalistic agreements that can be "horrible to administer." Instead, he spent the better part of a year developing "customer-relations" agreements for each agency.
Starting with 10 core areas that state IT was responsible for servicing, such as network operations, security and end-user support, agencies were asked how they would define satisfactory performance. Their answers became the basis for the service-level agreements. Liaisons from departments meet four times a year with Bott to review the measures, pre- and post-consolidation. Their conclusions show how the consolidation has affected agency operations--improving performance, reducing performance or having no measurable effect at all.
In addition to allowing the state to know in detail how IT is performing enterprise-wide, and evaluate whether it is getting its money's worth, the data derived from those measures are useful in many other ways. When "connectivity" numbers for the departments of economic development and labor plummeted precipitously one month, the mystery was quickly solved by checking the data generated by the measures. A prison mowing crew had lost control of a lawnmower that cut through telecommunications fiber and knocked out the IT functions in the nearby department buildings for a number of days. So the IT department was able to attribute the drop to a specific incident, which was unlikely to recur, and move on to address other problems.
As a result of the consolidation, Missouri has trimmed $6 million from its overall IT budget and saved much more in "soft dollars" from increased efficiencies, such as volume purchasing. And the 36-year-old Bott has impressed just about everyone. Richard AuBuchon, deputy commissioner and chief counsel with the Office of Administration, says, "Bill has the ability to transcend the norm." Indeed, according to Ross, who nominated his deputy as a Public Official of the Year, "Bill Bott has done more for the advancement of IT in state government than any single technological advancement in the past decade."
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