Virginia Adds Accountability to IT Management Structure


In October when I wrote about the problems experienced by the state of Virginia with its 10-year, $2 billion deal with Northrop Grumman, I mentioned a governance structure I called "convoluted." The state created the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA) in 2002 to centralize the state's IT. While VITA signed contracts and oversaw projects, it was overseen by an Information Technology Investment Board (ITIB). The board fell under the governor on the state organizational chart, although the governor had no authority to intervene in the contract dispute with Northrop Grumman or in other IT matters. Like I said, convoluted.


Earlier this week, Gov. Bob McDonnell signed legislation that should streamline Virginia's technology governance. It will eliminate the ITIB, make the state's CIO directly accountable to the governor, and give Secretary of Technology Jim Duffey enhanced authority, reports InformationWeek. Said Gov McDonnell in a statement:


This new governance and reporting structure will enhance [the Virginia Information Technologies Agency's] effectiveness and facilitate better information technology integration in the Commonwealth. It creates a more open process by which to share information between the agency and secretary [of technology Jim] Duffey and therefore enhances accountability.


According to InformationWeek, the Information Technology Investment Board's successor is now known as the Information Technology Advisory Council. Per its name, it will serve strictly in an advisory capacity. Many of its former duties will fall to CIO George Coulter.


Among other things, Coulter will develop budget justifications, produce an annual report on major IT projects that includes his assessment of the projects, and create a two-year IT strategic plan that includes details on future efforts and a status update on ongoing IT programs. He'll also oversee application planning, development, implementation and improvement, and develop and recommend technical and data standards to Duffey.


Duffey will review and approve IT procurements and budget requests, terminate IT projects that aren't working, and review and approve technical and data standards. He'll also develop new criteria to re-define which efforts are deemed "major information technology projects" and create a risk management framework for those projects.


The state of Virginia is hardly alone among government entities in suffering from a lack of transparency, convoluted management structures and poor communication. Earlier this year, during a summit event in which federal agencies met with private companies like Southwest Airlines to collect ideas on how technology could improve their organizations, several agency heads mentioned these issues.


Roger Baker, the Department of Veterans Affairs' CIO, is trying to address some of those problems at the VA with a project management framework called the Program Management Accountability System. Accountability is right there in the name, so you know that's what Baker thinks was lacking in prior project management approaches.


Last summer the agency temporarily halted 45 IT projects that were either behind schedule or over budget. Then in December, the agency decided to kill a dozen of those projects. A presentation given by Baker in June and available on Slideshare tapped schedule and cost overruns, decrease in software quality between releases and inadequate skills for project completion as key problems discovered in the 280-plus programs the VA reviewed. His recommendations included an incremental development approach, customer tests of functionality and criteria for success jointly developed by customers, the program and any vendors.