June 18, 2009 By Andy Opsahl
Prioritizing IT projects proposed by various agencies within a local government often makes IT leaders into villains to agencies assigned lower spots on the totem pole. But the IT staff in Tacoma, Wash., found a way to avoid that trap. They deployed "on-demand IT governance" software to automate analysis of what the city's IT staff could realistically finish over the course of a month. Based on that analysis, agency representatives then vote each month on the Tacoma IT Department's priorities. This enables IT priorities to come from the end-users themselves, rather than the seemingly arbitrary judgments of IT officials.
Each month, after agencies submit their project requests electronically, the city's IT staff enter the project descriptions into software called Innotas. Innotas analyzes the labor intensiveness factors of each project in relation to the city's limited IT resources. The software then gives order-of-priority options on which Tacoma agencies vote. For example, Innotas might say that if the city made the project proposed by the Human Resources (HR) Department its No. 1 priority, the IT staff would only have enough workers and time remaining to also complete the Water Department's project that month.
By contrast, if agencies voted to push the HR project to the following month, IT employees would have enough time and resources to complete five of the other less labor-intensive projects during the month at hand. The HR representative would need to make a strong case to the other departments that his or her project was worth the others waiting until the following month. IT employees sit relaxed on the sidelines and take whatever set of priorities the vote produces. If agencies later decide they don't like the list of priorities, they have their own judgment to blame, not that of the IT staff.
"There is always a bit of mystery to what happens behind the closed doors of IT. This lifts the veil and shows that if we have only 85 IT people, we can only do 'X' amount of work," said Brad Busick, manager of change management for Tacoma.
"We're making decisions based on facts and data as opposed to emotion and organizational norms," he said.
An agency submits its project using Innotas and later observes its progress in real time through the software. It also calculates the amount of work IT employees have done for various agencies over a given period of time.
"They're able to see that last month, for example, 25 percent of the work we did was for the power utility. If you're an agency that is paying for IT, you want to know how much they're working for you," Busick remarked.
Innotas is a software-as-a-service product, meaning the vendor hosts it and delivers the application through the Web, which the city pays for on demand.
"From a cost perspective, it makes a lot of sense for a government because we don't have to host any hardware on site," Busick explained.
The city paid Innotas a $50,000 one-time fee for 150 employees to use the software.
Busick said he has noticed an increase in the number of projects his team has been able to complete since deploying on-demand IT governance. A reduction in errors has also occurred. Busick expects to have calculations showing those improvements in September 2009.
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.