IT Reform in Utah


The text of HB109, which substantially reorganizes IT in Utah, is finally available. If passed as written, the bill:

  • phases out the existing information technology governance structure in the executive branch of state government over a one-year period;
  • creates the Department of Technology Services which includes:     
    • an executive director, who serves as the chief information officer;             
    • the Division of Enterprise Technology;             
    • the Division of Integrated Technology including the Automated Geographic Reference Center; and
    • the Division of Agency Services;
  • funds the department through an internal service fund;
  • maintains merit status for employees whose functions are transferred to the department, and requires nonmerit status for an employee who is hired for a new position with the department;                
  • creates an advisory board to the department and defines its duties;
  • gives rulemaking authority to the executive director of the department;
  • requires the chief information officer to coordinate the development of technology between executive branch agencies;
  • authorizes the chief information officer to assign department staff to work in-house for an executive branch agency;
  • requires executive branch agencies to subscribe to services of the department and permits other branches and public and higher education to subscribe to services of the department;
  • establishes the process and authority for the transition of the technology assets and functions in the executive branch of government into the Department of Technology Services;

If you read the duties of the three divisions within the department, they correspond closely to the three primary functions of IT that I call out in my paper on modular IT organizations (PDF). In fact, the whole plan is eerily similar to the ideas that we kicked around in our six month effort to reform IT in 2002 when I was CIO. I had discussions with many IT and agency leaders about a structure very much like this. I remember predicting then to a group of agency IT directors that they might not choose this kind of structure themselves, but sooner or later, someone would impose it on them. Now, here it is.

Well, not so fast. This isn't law yet and I know several legislators who have some concerns about it. Heck, I've got some too. As I mentioned several weeks ago, there are 1000 ways to do this wrong and getting it wrong will be far worse than what Utah has now.

This bill goes no further than past law in bring Public and Higher Education under the authority of the CIO. I think this is a mistake. Public and Higher Ed need coordination and guidance as much as other agencies. Furthermore, there's not the same separation of powers concerns that there are with the Legislature and Judiciary. Public and Higher Ed spend a lot of money on IT and the State will see greater savings as it pools more of its IT infrastructure.

Beyond the issue of shared infrastructure, there's a greater problem of introperability and coordination among all branches of government that the bill fails to address. One way to attack this and maintain some idenpendence would be to create a CIO position in each branch (Executive, Public Ed, Higher Ed, Legislature, and Judiciary) and then form a CIO council that together has the authority to impose interoperability standards and coordination requirements on the whole of government. This might be a job for another year, however.

One big red flag I see with the bill is the clause that let's employees who transfer to the new department keep merit status. I understand the reluctance of lawmakers to take away what is perceived as a benefit and, more importantly, to keep the UEPA out of their hair. Even so, this is like teaching your kid to swim by throwing them in the deep end of the pool with a block of concrete tied to their feet. If this new department is to have a fighting chance to give good service and save money, then the restructuring needs to allow pruning of deadwood and excess personnel. If this bill passes with this provision intact, I don't give the new department much chance of succeeding.

This reorganization is the largest thing to come out of Gov. Huntsman's transition team and its important to them. I expect that they'll put in a full court press. On the other side will be the middle managers who have built relations with legislators over the years and will be whispering in their ears all the reasons this will end life as we know it. Should be an interesting fight.