by Bill Coleman, Democratic candidate for House of Delegates from the 73rd district
While campaigning for the House of Delegates in the 73rd district, voters I have spoken to have voiced their concerns over Virginia government waste. One of the greatest areas of concern is how the Commonwealth purchases its technology service. With the passage back in 2003 of Senate Bill 1247 and House Bill 1926, the way the Commonwealth of Virginia handled its information technology (IT) changed in a radical way. The purpose of the 2003 legislation was to establish a new agency Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) and outsource the entire enterprise. Set with the vision, “deliver agile technology services at the speed of business,” VITA proved it could do neither well.
From the beginning, the relationship between the Commonwealth’s departments and VITA’s vendor, Northrop Grumman (NG), has been a troubled, on-again, off-again affair. From cost overruns, an aging infrastructure, random and frequent network outages, and not delivering on the basic IT requirements. NG operations under VITA have been so ineffectual that they are missing even the basics of IT management.
Now NG wants out and the General Assembly is all too happy to oblige them. And so the real opportunity and work begins. The new idea being implemented is to divide up our state IT into “8 pillars” (messaging, IBM mainframe, MSI, servers and storage, security, desktops, and data voice) and to allow different vendors to run each of them with another vendor organizing the entire enterprise. But as with most great ideas, there is a flaw. This overarching vendor has no final authority over the other eight. This is a recipe for disaster from the start.
I have never, in my 21 years of being a technologist, seen a system setup as this one is proposed. When you break down your system to such small sections, you will find that intense silos form quickly. While this is always a possibility in the entirety of an organization, it cannot be tolerated inside your IT department. Silos will lead to lack of communication, difficulties in teamwork and common sense of purpose, and the possibility of missing a serious issue that could be catastrophic to the entire enterprise. For example, If the help desk is not talking to the desktop support people about a possible security threat, they probably also are not warning the mainframe or server technicians of the security threat. In short order, the entire system will break down, your information will be vulnerable, and you will most likely find out about it from the newspaper or by a notice in the mail. Just ask Anthem, VCU, Target or any of the other dozen enterprises this has happened to.
What other options do we have? Well, it a well known fact in IT circles that complete IT outsourcing never works the way it is sold. Outsourcing is a reactive IT existence. You never ever get the savings you were promised, and the time you spend overlooking the vendors is much more than you would have spent on your own employees. You end up reacting to what the vendors are doing and how they are handling IT in your name, for better or – usually – for worse.
So, I propose that Virginia take a proactive approach. Instead of just moving the current problems we have with NG as a sole vendor to eight other vendors, let’s solve our problems in-house. First, by combining these eight sections into a more agile and manageable setup. If we must have outsourced resources, let us make sure it makes organizational and fiscal sense by utilizing the foundations of good IT management. By having an in-house IT managerial staff that follows the philosophies of a business/IT alignments and good IT governance based on ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) practices we can make sure that IT aligns with the business needs of the different departments of the state.
If you as a voter want to make sure your tax dollars are spent wisely, this is the industry standard on how to accomplish it. Currently, the needs of the 89 departments are not even close to being met and the costs are completely out of control.
If these suggestions are thought through by policy makers and legislators with IT experience, we may finally be able to have an IT for the Commonwealth that is utilized by the departments, adequately funded, innovative and worthy of the Commonwealth. This is one of the reasons I am running for the 73rd delegate district. We have legislators who are too reliant on lobbyists of potential vendors for their IT policy knowledge. The motives of these lobbyists are, first and foremost, for their companies to make money off lucrative deals from dependent and unknowing legislators who take their word as fact. We cannot afford, literally, another NG boondoggle. We need those funds for other priorities. We can do IT right here in the Old Dominion and not lose our shirts doing it. The long-term benefits are incredible for both the citizenry and the bureaucracy. Because if IT is done wrong as it has been, you wonder why you have it. If IT is done right, you wonder how you ever did without it.
The citizens have said enough is enough with government waste. While many families struggle to make ends meet and workers go without pay raises, large companies like Northrop Grumman have reaped the benefits of their $2.3 billion technology contract. With that contract set to expire in 2019, the question our lawmakers need to answer is, “Are we going to make the same mistake twice?”