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California undergoes IT makeover

Thirteen months after California's centralised IT agency collapsed amid a political scandal triggered by a $126m Oracle database licensing deal, progress has been made in reorganising the way technology is procured.

State chief information officer J Clark Kelso outlined an IT governance proposal, a version of which is now before the state legislature. The proposal specifies the technology procurement responsibilities that would be given to various government entities, including his office, the state's finance and general services departments, the managers of its data centres and the chief information officers of individual agencies.

For example, the bill mandates that the state chief information officers focus on strategic planning and gives the finance department the ultimate authority to approve and fund IT projects, as well as project oversight duties. The legislation includes Kelso's own recommendations on how to govern IT, but governor Gray Davis has yet to say whether he would sign the existing version of the bill.

Kelso said his office has initiated programmes to streamline the state's IT procurement process and has developed new spending oversight rules and procurement training programmes.

By next July, the state plans to consolidate a data centre that contains personnel records on state workers and the IT facility for its health and human services agency under a single administrative entity, a project that has been on the drawing board for the past decade.

However, Kelso said that achieving all the IT procurement improvements he has in mind and reaping the anticipated cost savings on technology purchases will take years.

With its many agencies and departments, California's government is one of the biggest enterprises in the world, Kelso noted. But the state "doesn't really have good enough information about many of its systems and infrastructure", he said.

That makes it impossible to launch and manage potential statewide technology initiatives cost effectively .

State auditor Elaine Howle last year sharply criticised the Oracle deal in a report that helped fuel the debate over the propriety of the software contract. Howle said her department has yet to do a detailed analysis of Kelso's proposed IT governance programme, but on the surface, it appears to be "going in the right direction".

Kelso initially took over management of the Deaprtment of Information Technology on an interim basis and then was named state chief information officer after the IT agency was dissolved at the end of June 2002.

Kelso said there is more of an atmosphere of collaboration and trust than existed under the DOIT, which was viewed by some state officials as "a competitor".

Marc L Songini writes for Computerworld


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