State plans next phase of IT modernization

Sharon Fisher//December 17, 2019

State plans next phase of IT modernization

Sharon Fisher//December 17, 2019

photo of state capitol
The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee will hear about the next phase of the state’s IT modernization effort during the first week of the legislative session. File photo

Idaho’s Office of Information Technology Services plans to take the next step of its modernization program to the Legislature during the upcoming session.

The initiative continues centralizing Idaho’s computing resources, including moving several full-time equivalent (FTE) positions under the office instead of agencies having their own computer staff, said Jeff Weak, administrator. The process started last year with eight agencies: Tax Commission, Industrial Commission, Public Utilities Commission, Division of Building Safety, Department of Finance, Department of Insurance, Division of Veterans Services and the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, according to the office’s website.

Agencies under consideration for the second phase are: Department of Correction, Department of Fish & Game, Department of Water Resources, Department of Agriculture, Department of Parks & Recreation, Real Estate Commission, Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Juvenile Corrections.

Weak said he is scheduled to testify to the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee during the first week, which kicks off Jan. 6 with Gov. Brad Little’s State of the State speech. Implementation depends on whether the Legislature approves a budget including it.

New staff

photo of jeff weak
Jeff Weak. Photo by Sharon Fisher

With legislative approval, the number of employees in the office would more than double, from 66 to 142, but with no overall increase in FTE, because a commensurate number of FTEs, on the order of 80, will be eliminated from the agencies, Weak said.

Moreover, the effort adds several new positions, including a chief data officer, data scientists, a chief technology officer and a person focusing on licensing, Weak said.

“Analytical decisions within the state are based on data,” Weak said. “That’s huge.”

The data positions will also break down and correlate disparate data sets currently spread across agencies, he said.

The chief technology officer would look at new technologies and help define a one- to three-year roadmap to ensure technologies are interoperable, Weak said.

The licensing person will focus on getting the state the best deal for its software, Weak said. With 67 separate agencies buying software, Idaho isn’t leveraging economies of scale, he said.

“The vendor treats us all like small businesses,” he said.

The staffer will also be in charge of getting agency software contracts in sync so they can transition to a statewide enterprise solution, he said.

That position offers the most potential to save the state money, Weak said.

“Instead of paying for four endpoint security solutions, we’ll be minimizing three systems we have to patch and operate.”

Last year’s effort eliminated 14 to 16 personnel, saving $1 million, Weak said. This year’s has a slight personnel reduction.

“The cost savings is really in the coming years.”

Agency response

The response from the agencies is mixed, Weak said.

“Some embrace it because they want to focus on their core mission,” he said. “Some don’t like losing control and don’t like change and think they’re unique and special.”

But while agencies entered the first phase with some trepidation, it’s now the new norm, he said.

Eliminating FTEs from the agencies doesn’t mean losing staffers, Weak emphasized, noting that about 80% were retained by the state. Of the ones who left, some didn’t want to wait to interview for their job again, some retired, and some were hired by other state entities, he said.

“I want to hire those folks,” Weak said. “They have corporate knowledge I want to retain. We have some phenomenal people in those agencies.”

But with a competitive job market and what tends to be lower salaries in the state, he can’t necessarily retain them, though state benefits help, he said.

While agency IT people tend to be generalists, people Weak hires get a specific role and training in that role to increase their expertise, he said.

“We’re not a bleeding-edge organization, but we have to keep up with emerging threats as well,” Weak said. “State government isn’t growing, but the state of Idaho is. The only way we can keep up is to automate and work smarter and not harder.”