The State Worker

One tiny California IT project is on cutting edge

Jon Ortiz
Jon Ortiz

In the dark firmament of spectacular state computer system failures, a small glimmer of success has pierced the gloom and points to government technology’s future.

The California Conservation Corps launched a new website earlier this year to recruit corps members. The 18-to-25-year-olds who sign on earn minimum wage for back-breaking jobs such as laying down sandbags ahead of a flood and clearing hiking trails. At one point, 226 corps members worked the King fire.

The Corps motto: “Hard work, low pay, miserable conditions … and more!”

After decades of paper applications, the Corps unveiled an online portal in February. Since then, about 800 applications per month come through the website, compared to about 50 applications per month with the old paper-and-pen system.

Unlike the state’s unwieldy civil-service site, jobs.ca.gov, the Corps’ application website is simple and fast. To apply, set up an account and upload a résumé. Then complete a one-page job questionnaire. Hit “submit.”

The state’s larger website is nearly impossible to penetrate. But to be fair, it’s also the online source for 4,000-plus job classifications with all the hoop-jumping of civil service. The Corps’ site concerns itself with luring applicants for one job, no civil-service testing required.

Then there’s time and cost. The Corps finished its site in four months for $219,000, including five years of licensing. The jobs.ca.gov site is three years away from finishing a $10 million overhaul.

What was the Corps’ trick?

“We went with a cloud-based application,” said Rita Gass, the department’s technology chief.

Doing things the old way – the way the state’s bigger projects are being developed – would have taken a year and cost up to $1 million for a programmer, hardware and a full-time project manager, Gass said. It didn’t make sense.

But cloud computing uses remote servers and the Internet to store, manage and process data instead of employing a local server or a personal computer. Apple’s iTunes, for example, uses the cloud to store and deliver music and video. With a Web connection and an account, you’re good to go.

Cloud computing also is the Next Big Thing in government technology, said Michael Krigsman, a government tech consultant with Boston-based Asuret Inc.

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” he said, but the federal government already has a “cloud first” policy. Krigsman predicts it will take a decade or more to filter down to state and local governments.

Meanwhile, from a failed payroll system to the $600 million court system debacle, traditional state tech projects have failed time and again – and there’s another $2.5 billion committed to its five biggest IT projects alone.

Too bad they aren’t more like the Conservation Corps’ portal, with their tech in the cloud.

Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043. For more columns, go to sacbee.com/stateworker.

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