When a very prominent product of the public education system decides as state governor to cut funding for schools, you know your local economy is in dire straits. That’s the case in New York, where Governor George E. Pataki has made the highly unpopular decision to cut funding to the state’s public education system in an effort to balance an $11.5 billion dollar shortfall over two years on its $93 billion budget.
Every agency head in New York state government, including James Dillon, the state CIO and head of its Office for Technology, is stretching department funding as thin as a piece of Silly Putty. For his part, Dillon has to figure out how he’s going to allocate what little money he has for the state’s e-government initiative. The state has no choice but to move from mainframe-based legacy systems to Web-based systems, says Dillon, because vendors are discontinuing their support of legacy systems and because the vast majority of the state’s 6,000 IT workers who know how to support those legacy systems are closing in on retirement. (Many of Dillon’s middle-aged and older workers have already taken early retirement packages in lieu of a layoff.) “You combine the move toward e-government with the lack of support from vendors, the loss of institutional knowledge through retirement and the budget crisis, and you’ve got a difficult formula to deal with,” says Dillon.
Because he knows that he has to move the state off of its legacy systems, Dillon has made e-government one of his top priorities. “We have to look at which legacy systems are in the most dire need of an upgrade, and where there is the biggest potential for growth in terms of revenue generation,” he says. “You can provide any services you want through e-government, but it’s a matter of prioritizing them during a difficult budget time to ensure that you’re maximizing the bang for the buck.”
That bang, says Dillon, will likely come from such applications as the state’s online driver’s license and car registration renewal system, and an online service for filing taxes, especially when you can couple online automated tax filing with tax amnesty.
Prioritizing the state’s myriad IT projects helps him determine where and how he’s going to allocate the Office for Technology’s $300 million budget. (The state’s total IT spending, which is decentralized and controlled by the agencies, is estimated to be more than $1 billion per year.) To identify which projects should get funding and which can be tabled, Dillon considers several criteria, including demographic realities like the fact that many of his legacy programmers are ready to retire, guidelines established by the Governor (e.g., the “Government Without Walls” e-government program he instituted in 1998), and a project’s ROI. Projects that have a fast ROI are more likely to be bumped up on the list of things to do. These days, says Dillon, for a project to get a green light it often has to show an ROI that will recoup the up-front cost within the current budget year. And all potential IT projects must adhere to strict architectural guidelines before Dillon will even consider them as part of his investment portfolio.
Another project that touches on some of Dillon’s criteria is the upgrade of the state’s radio communications infrastructure. The state is currently accepting RFPs from vendors for a wireless communications network for police and public safety personnel, even though the infrastructure alone for this new network will cost half a billion dollars. “The statewide wireless network is a security priority,” says Dillon. “It’s a criminal justice priority. It goes not only to law enforcement agencies but to [all] first responders. Given the age of the existing systems and the needs of the law enforcement agencies and the first responders, that [investment] was an easy call.”
Dillon is also focusing on standardizing the state’s desktop suites, e-mail and operating systems to reduce costs. The state has already been through a huge data center consolidation before Dillon was appointed CIO in January 2002. Up until 1999, every agency had its own data center, and a total of 630 state employees were working in them. Now there’s just one data center with 320 people handling the load from 550 servers. “The costs have gone down every year since the data centers have been centralized and we have not seen a loss of service,” says Dillon. “The old adage of doing more with less—we’re getting very good at it. We’re getting better all the time.”