October 31, 2008 By Andy Opsahl
Texas Gov. Rick Perry's decision to halt the state's troubled data center outsourcing and consolidation with IBM begs this question: Is outsourcing really the way to make government functions more efficient? Robin MacEwan, chief of staff to Texas Rep. Carl Isett, who helped pass 2005 legislation mandating the consolidation, says outsourcing is still the right option for data centers.
"With any huge project, you're going to see hiccups and bumps along the way, things that need to be worked out," MacEwan said, adding that the project's difficulties could have just as easily happened if the state consolidated the data centers itself.
She praised the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR) for withholding roughly $900,000 from IBM for not meeting server backup timeliness targets as defined in the outsourcing contract.
Perry froze the transfer of state data to IBM in an Oct. 28 letter to Brian Rawson, chief technology officer of Texas and executive director of the DIR, which awarded IBM the contract. Perry cited IBM's apparent failure to back up data for more than 20 agencies. The governor's order came a week after local media reported a July server failure in the Attorney General's Office that temporarily lost eight months of data.
"The problems that have been painfully documented over recent months, including state agency concerns about unreliable e-mail systems, administrative cost increases and other breakdowns, have resulted in a loss of confidence in the DIR's ability to provide Texas agencies with a proper level of service for technology services," Perry said in the letter.
IBM spokesman Jeff Tieszen contends the state's IT has steadily improved since the project began last year.
"There have been some issues with data backup and recovery, and IBM has been working with the Texas Department of Information Resources to resolve those issues as quickly as possible," Tieszen said in an e-mail.
The DIR is busy developing a plan with the governor's staff and state agencies to address unacceptable lapses in performance, said David Duncan, manager of the DIR's Communications and Strategic Partnerships Office.
"We are committed to restoring the confidence of the governor and other agencies in DIR's management of the data center services contract," Duncan said.
This Digital Communities white paper highlights discussions with IT officials in four counties that have adopted shared services models. Our aim was to learn about the obstacles these governments have faced when it comes to shared services and what it takes to overcome those roadblocks. We also spoke with several members of the IT industry who have thought long and hard about these issues. The paper offers some best practices for shared government-to-government services, but also points out challenges that government and industry still must overcome before this model gains widespread adoption.