IT Governance Built to Last: The Wisconsin Enterprise Model
In early September, the State of Wisconsin learned that it had earned an A- in the Center for Digital Government’s 2016 Digital States Survey, along with first place in the Adaptive Leadership category. Adaptive Leadership reflects our ability to ensure the state’s technology investment strategies match the top policy priorities of the Governor and Legislature, and this distinction was a great honor for the State of Wisconsin. I believe enthusiastically in our enterprise governance model, but it has taken time and persistence on the part of many administrators and staff to make it effective. And the results have been entirely worth the effort.
The cornerstone of our governance model is the ITESC– the Information Technology Executive Steering Committee. This group approves all enterprise IT initiatives and ensures they align with the Governor’s priorities and agency business needs. The ITESC consists of the State CIO and deputy secretaries of the 10 largest cabinet agencies. Meanwhile, the Agency CIO Steering Committee (ACSC), which includes CIOs from the same agencies represented on the ITESC, serves to operationalize the strategies approved and sponsored by the ITESC. The ACSC provides guidance, recommendations and support to the ITESC as both groups work to advance the vision for IT expressed by the Governor and Legislature. With advance analysis of enterprise IT issues conducted by the State CIO in collaboration with the ACSC, the ITESC gets to evaluate and decide on clearly articulated and researched options for moving forward.
I can’t stress enough how these two groups need to work in tandem. What happens when a deputy secretary, who is an important high-level manager but may not have a technology background, gets asked by the State CIO to make a key enterprise IT decision? That deputy secretary will likely go back to the agency and ask the IT director what he or she thinks. This is an individual the deputy works with on a daily basis, and usually knows and trusts a great deal. And if I were pushing a decision that goes against what the IT director might recommend, I have already lost an essential ITESC member, both in terms of getting consensus on a decision in the first place and regarding the prospects of a smooth implementation in that agency.
Adaptive Leadership reflects our ability to ensure the state’s technology investment strategies match the top policy priorities of the Governor and Legislature
Therefore we rely extensively on the IT directors in the ACSC to help formulate the options that go to the ITESC. The state’s pursuit of Unified Communications (UC) provides a good example of how this works. Our current enterprise phone system is being phased out, so “stay the course” was not an option this time (though it often can be, depending on the issue). But implementing an on-premise solution vs. the cloud definitely were options, so the ACSC focused on those alternatives and their respective costs. We did an exhaustive evaluation with the IT directors, and the cost difference was marginal. And, in light of that, maybe we don’t want to be a telephone company, we collectively decided. The UC scenario is the appropriate place for a cloud solution–implementing UC is a key strategic objective for us, but the functionality constitutes a commodity we can hand off to a vendor, and we can devote our internal resources to those efforts where state employees are in a better position to add value for the business.
So the cloud-based solution was ultimately what the ACSC endorsed when the decision went to the ITESC. And ITESC members, understandably, had many of the same cost concerns that IT directors had. But the ITESC members didn’t have to just take my word for it. They knew their IT directors had already hammered on these questions, and had arrived at a consensus recommendation, which the ITESC approved. The depth of buy-in this two-stage process generates in agencies is absolutely worth the effort of bringing important decision items to the ACSC first.
We have several other governance groups that conduct important preliminary analyses for the ITESC. Our successful ERP project, STAR (State Transforming Agency Resources), was implemented during the past two years, despite its extensive scope–STAR replaced 140-plus systems with one comprehensive system. The key to an accelerated ERP implementation is minimizing customizations, and the STAR Decision Council, consisting primarily of agency division administrators, reviewed any customization requests, as well as other major configuration decisions, prior to them being advanced to the ITESC. Ultimately, the ITESC determined only three customizations to the off-the-shelf software were justifiable for business reasons, thanks to the Decision Council’s earlier research and evaluations.
Likewise, we have an eGovernment Business Management Team (EBMT) that provides oversight for the state of Wisconsin’s self-funded portal contract and advises the ITESC on the annual eGovernment business plan, as well as any decisions about applications that might collect fees. Since the state’s partnership with its self-funded portal vendor began in 2013, the eGovernment program has designated more than 70 applications for development, and 50 are currently in production.
Even with the advance analysis of enterprise IT issues done by the ACSC and EBMT, I am still amazed at the level of follow-up questions and investigation the ITESC members ask of me and my staff. I often compare the circuitous deliberations of the ITESC to those of a trial jury. But I understand that is how the process should work, and I truly enjoy working with a governance team at this level. I respect their conscientiousness, and I know their ultimate decision will have impact and drive our IT investments.
Once I get a “Yes” from the ITESC, then I get to work with state employees on the execution, and their focus and determination to implement never fails to energize me, project after project. It’s the most fulfilling aspect of my job. We have the “Yes” now from the ITESC for Voice over IP, Unified Communications, Office software in the cloud, and a document management solution that integrates with STAR. We’re digitizing old paper-based systems and enabling analytics. State employees will be able to work together, and work productively, in ways never before possible.
All of this is on track, however, because we didn’t try to short-circuit the governance process. The time we put in up front with governance teams ensures these implementations won’t get interrupted or have to go back to square one. And employees know the end result will be a great environment in which to do their jobs, and they will have efficient and powerful tools to serve both internal and external customers. That is what state service was always meant to be, and it’s a privilege to work with both managers and staff to help make this transformation happen.