Ask John Conomy the key ingredient for a successful government technology project and hell give you one word: Fear.
Conomy is the top tech officer for the Ohio Department of Public Safety. Last year his agency published a review of its Exodus Project, which updated a 40-year-old computer system that handles Ohio drivers licensing, vehicle registrations and everything that flows from managing all that data. Law enforcement, courts, insurance companies and 1,500 Bureau of Motor Vehicle employees relied on the faithful-but-creaking system. Updating it took five years and about $15 million. It was on time and on budget.
Sure, its small potatoes compared with Californias Department of Motor Vehicles, which has 8,200 employees, give or take. And sure, Californias size makes state technology projects harder to pull off.
Look no further than todays Sacramento Bee for news that the Brown administration is shoveling out money for overdue unemployment payments before checking claimants eligibility. Why? A gigantic claim backlog created after a computer system update over (ironically) Labor Day weekend.
Still, government IT success stories are rare, so The State Worker called Conomy for Exodus insights. Among them:
Fear failure. Ohio officials in 2007 knew within five years they faced spending up to $13.5 million to buy processing power much like buying gas to run a car and new hardware. Programmers were hard to find. So the state swallowed hard and said it wouldnt keep pouring big bucks into the antiquated technology. Period. We had to make the project work, Conomy said. Without that hard deadline the project might still be flailing.
Fear waste. Government projects slip past deadlines and go over budget, Conomy said, when theres a sense that endless public dollars can fix any costly mistakes. Ohios state budget was squeezed, however, and I really didnt want to ask for more money, he said. The Exodus Project needed a little extra cash to bridge a few months between the legacy contracts expiring and the launch of the new system, but otherwise it stayed on track.
Own it. The 30-member Exodus team mostly comprised state employees with just a few contracted consultants. Outsourcing the whole thing would have freed up staff for daily work, but it would have doubled the projects total cost, Conomy said. Keeping the work in-house also gave the state more control and a greater sense of responsibility. At the end of the day, its Public Safetys baby, he said. Its our name on the sign over the door, our people on the desk.
Find wins. At one point, the Exodus team slipped into despair, stymied by a series of crises, crushing workloads and daunting deadlines. Then they rethought their approach, broke big projects down into smaller ones and started marking progress. Everything changed. Instead of trying to do some giant effort with a big bang at the end, Conomy said, we went to a series of small bangs,
Right now, it looks like Californias state technology needs more little wins and maybe a little more fear?
Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916)321-1043.