Innovative IT urged by Minnesota CIO

Gopal Khanna, CIO of the state of Minnesota, is grappling with a problem common to many government institutions: There’s not much incentive for IT teams to save money or take risks.

“Our environment is not conducive to innovation and risk taking,” said Khanna, who was appointed Minnesota’s first cabinet-level CIO in August 2005. “If you save money, the money is taken away from us…If we make a mistake, we get slapped around. There is very little room for error, for making mistakes. And that sets in a behaviour pattern that is risk averse and is not innovative.”

Khanna wants to see technology better leveraged to transform government operations, he told attendees at the Minnesota Government IT Symposium, an annual gathering of state, county and local government IT professionals held last week. “We have very smart people who know what needs to be done. But we have to unleash their energy and empower them to take risks and come up with solutions.”

One step Minnesota has taken to improve the environment is to establish an account that lets agencies invest any monies they save into other enterprise IT projects, Khanna said.

Khanna also talked about progress the state is making toward its 10-year master plan for IT systems and services. There are eight main elements of the master plan, which is two years in the making. No. 1 is enterprise security.

“It’s been on my mind since the day I arrived here,” Khanna said of the state’s security agenda. So far the state has created and staffed its new enterprise security office; established an enterprise security framework and acquired tools to deliver it; and issued security policies around portable computing devices and e-mail, among other things.

Looking ahead 12 months, Khanna said IT security efforts will focus on vulnerability and threat management, security monitoring, identity and access management, continuity of operations and security awareness.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota legislature recently allotted US$7.5 million to kick off the state’s e-services program, which is the second major element of the master plan. To date, Minnesota’s e-services projects include an electronic licensing program and a new portal that provides citizens with information about government services.

Consolidation of IT services is the third element of the master plan, and so far the state has added 200 sites in 90 cities to its telecom services plan; consolidated servers and data centres at sites such as the Department of Revenue; and launched a program to combine utility services including storage and backup (compare products), identity management, collaboration and content management systems.

“We have made enormous progress, but the challenges are huge,” Khanna said. “The challenges are huge because we still have a very decentralized computing environment. It is not conducive to efficiency, effectiveness, security, management and on and on. It is conducive to failure, as a matter of fact.”

The remaining core elements of Minnesota’s master IT plan are:

-Systems and business process modernization, which includes agency-led efforts to develop an integrated tax system and state procurement applications, for example.

-IT governance, which includes establishing a governance process and advisory boards for enterprise activity, along with creating the first state-wide database of agencies’ IT applications, assets, projects and directions.

-IT architecture standards and practice, which involves developing standards for hardware and software and adopting a service-oriented architecture approach to development.

-Information management, which encompasses the state’s document- and content-management systems, identity management (compare products) and e-mail systems.

-Resource management, which includes standardization of laptops, desktops, servers, storage and other products to leverage vendor discounts and streamline ordering processes.