Infrastructure Consolidation

James M. Fowler, CIO, Commonwealth of Kentucky
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James M. Fowler, CIO, Commonwealth of Kentucky

It seems as if everyone in the public sector is engaged in some form or flavor of consolidation. It’s a path that most of us are on; have been on; or are about to get on. Some have been more successful than others; some have taken longer than others; but all have struggled with virtually the same issues. The technology is the easy part; it’s the people and the processes that require most of our attention.

Why is this journey finding so many travelers? Clearly the financial impact is a significant driver. The value equation revolves around economy of scale, standardization and process improvement. The economics derived from these factors yield savings that dwindling public sector finances demand.

As information technology grew in relevance and importance throughout the government, most often individual agencies set their own agenda in terms of platform, technologies, structure and process. These agendas were infrequently aligned across agencies, even within the same jurisdiction. As agency IT staffs grew, the cost to support these diverse environments continued to mount, and technical resources were duplicated across agencies. It became apparent that a centralized, consolidated approach would deliver measurable benefits.

The Commonwealth of Kentucky embarked on an infrastructure consolidation initiative in July, 2013. The initiative covers all of the Executive Branch as well as several constitutional offices that have elected to participate. Under this plan, business application development and support remains with the individual agencies. The plan in Kentucky is to centralize all infrastructure and security management under the Commonwealth Office of Technology, the state’s central IT organization.

In addition to the more obvious fiscal advantages, consolidation brings about operational and process improvements as well. A standardized environment enables improved purchasing opportunities, reduces support costs and minimizes risk profile; it also creates a more flexible and fungible resource pool.

Developing and implementing process improvements in a consistent, standardized environment is much easier and cross training opportunities are enhanced. An accurate and consistent asset base is better served when the assets are managed by a single entity. A consolidated environment offers the opportunity to investigate into public- private partnerships and managed services.

Without a consolidated environment and trustworthy asset information, there is no way to gauge if a partnership or a managed services proposal presents an acceptable ROI. Consolidation opens the door to a wide range of options not available in a decentralized environment.

The road to consolidation is not without its potholes. However there are several steps that can help ensure success. First and foremost, is a comprehensive communications plan. You cannot  over-communicate the plan, the goals and objectives, the benefits and the process. The plan must address information technology employees, the business professionals who will be customers of the newly consolidated environment and enterprise leadership. It is vital to engage the agency leaders early and throughout the process. Most consolidations take 18 to 24 months or longer and the consistency of communications during the entire process keeps stakeholders involved. It is important to recognize that there are several different audiences and it requires of you, to tailor your communications to their wants, needs and fears. Another way is to engage the agency IT leaders as advisors. In Kentucky we established the Technology Advisory Council, consisting of representatives from every agency, to provide advice and guidance on the consolidation initiative. We found it necessary to appoint an individual whose primary responsibility is to manage all of the various communications channels; to make certain the meetings take place; to prepare a focused agenda and to ensure that there is consistency of message.

Engage the financial team and your statewide budget and financial executives early on in the process. Get their advice on funding sources, budget projections and setting agency expectations. They can be a strong ally as the program progresses.

Establish baseline operating parameters (e.g. SLA’s and response time) and costs at a detailed level. This will be critical for before and after comparisons, to determine the value derived from consolidation. Beware of hidden costs (e.g. overtime) in this exercise.

“Without a consolidated environment and trustworthy asset information, there is no way to gauge if a partnership or a managed services proposal presents an acceptable ROI”

Some procedural and organizational steps that will improve the probability of success include establishing an effective ITSM (Information Technology Service Management) structure and processes. It is imperative that things such as Service Desk, Change Management, Release Management, Incident Management, etc. be fully flushed out and documented in advance of any actual systems migrations.

Simple asset management is a fundamental requirement but a networked asset discovery tool and a robust CMDB (Configuration Management Data Base) are a much more effective aid to the process.

Another important step is to resolve the personnel issues up front. Infrastructure employees at the agencies should be transferred to the central IT organization at the very beginning of the process. In addition to managing a potentially contentious issue early on, these individuals have the institutional knowledge of their former agency and will be an invaluable resource in planning and executing the consolidation.

One of the most important steps we took in Kentucky was the formation of a team to be the relationship managers between the agencies and the central IT organization. This Business Relationship Manager role is the primary liaison with the agency and becomes the central IT organization’s first line of defense. They listen to the agency’s issues and engage the appropriate central IT resources to resolve issues and remove roadblocks. They function as the CIO’s personal ambassadors to the agencies and as the agencies’ advocate within the central IT organization. They are in lock step with the consolidation team from the initial contact with the agency to the conclusion of the agency’s systems migration.

It is important that the entire central IT organization recognize their role and provide the necessary support. In Kentucky, they are an extension of the Office of the CIO and report directly to the CIO.

Finally, I would tell you to expect surprises. They will happen no matter how well you plan and how well you execute. Expect them, plan for them, and have a structure and a process in place to deal with them as quickly as possible. Prompt resolution will prevent the project from stalling.

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