Chapter 1: Electronic Government
Improve Strategic Planning for Information Technology Projects
Texas’ strategic planning process should be changed to require agencies to more closely coordinate their information technology (IT) initiatives. Agencies also should be allowed to move up to half of their appropriations across budget lines to fund new IT projects they develop during any biennium if the agencies are meeting 80 percent of their performance measures.
Many, if not most, of the processes used today to deliver value to citizens or customers depend on IT. IT executives, consultants and the academic community agree that IT is most effective when it is clearly linked to organizational goals. The focus of a strategic plan should not be on technology, but on the business results that technology can create. For this reason, priorities for IT activities and investments should be set by the business units, not by IT departments alone.
Strategic planning should lead to a single, well-integrated business plan that includes a clearly stated IT component. Texas recently moved in this direction by requiring agencies to integrate their strategic plans with their strategic information resources (IR) plans. These plans must be submitted as appendices to the strategic plans, and they must include measurable IT goals. The 1999 Department of Information Resources (DIR) strategic plan for state information resources, Texas Connected: Service at the Speed of Light, sets statewide goals on which agencies must base their strategic IR plans.
Producing a strategic IR plan involves assembling a significant amount of information, including plans for electronic government functions, information-sharing, computing platforms, systems, telecommunications, databases, and applications. At present, however, such plans are not required to include information on areas of overlap with other agency efforts, or on multiple-agency projects. Each agency sets individual goals, objectives, and strategies for which it seeks an appropriation, a process that provides agencies with no incentive to collaborate in planning future projects or services. Instead, present planning practices encourage an internal focus that may ignore the broader implications of agencies’ fundamental mission of effective service delivery.
The planning process, moreover, emphasizes incremental modifications and tends to slight IT projects that cross program and budget-year boundaries. The historical development of programs has contributed to this problem. Functions common to multiple agencies—eligibility determination, service delivery, case management, billing, accounting, and auditing—have evolved independently, with no collaboration.
The Internet allows agencies to maintain their individual identities but present a single face to the taxpayer, a virtual “front counter” for government services. To achieve this degree of “seamlessness,” however, agencies must collaborate. Ideally, the state’s planning process should allow agencies to develop their own strategic plans and establish multi-agency projects to achieve statewide IR and business goals. State programs such as licensing, permitting, and social services delivery could be improved and streamlined by developing shared databases and processes.
Rapid changes, led by the growth of the Internet, have forced many private firms to change their processes for acquiring technology. Large, long-lasting IT systems seldom deliver the same value to corporations as they did in the years before the Internet. Indeed, large systems have given way to applications that can be developed rapidly and discarded within a few years.
In the private sector, IT plans are flexible and frequently reviewed by the business units involved. Approvals for major IT initiatives are typically made in a timely fashion and linked to funding. By contrast, present government processes for budgeting and procurement are cumbersome and slow, making it hard for agencies to react in the face of technological change. Texas’ current process—generally involving planning over a two- to three-year window—does not allow for agencies to take full advantage of useful and rapidly developing innovations.
A. The Department of Information Resources (DIR) should review the instructions for preparing agency information resources (IR) strategic plans to ensure that the plans are timely and useful for agencies and the planning process.
As technology rapidly changes, it becomes imperative that the state review its planning process for information technology to ensure that the current process is still beneficial for agencies and the state as a whole. The Department of Information Resources should review its instructions for preparing the strategic IR plans for any changes needed regarding the content, frequency, and use of the plans.
B. DIR should change the instructions for preparing agency information resources strategic plans to require state agencies to include a description of how agency IT initiatives relate to similar initiatives of other agencies and, where applicable, plans for the coordination of such projects.
Each agency strategic IR plan should outline how any new IT projects will be coordinated with other agencies, where appropriate. While agencies would not be expected to be aware of every single IT initiative of other agencies, they should be aware of what agencies with overlapping programs or constituencies are doing, and they should make plans to coordinate similar projects. By requiring agencies to include this step in their planning cycle, the state should be able to reduce the amount of overlap found between agency projects and increase cooperation among agencies.
C. The proposed Program Management Office (PMO) should identify cross-agency opportunities.
Even if agency IT plans include information on how their programs may overlap with others, opportunities may be overlooked because agencies fail to recognize the overlap in their systems, or they are reluctant to give up control over their projects.
The PMO proposed elsewhere in this report would be a division of the Department of Information Resources and charged with the coordination and development of cross-agency applications. Allowing the PMO to carry out this recommendation would enable the review of agency strategic plans and the identification of projects that overlap or should be developed across agencies.
D. The General Appropriations Act for the 2002-03 biennium should allow agencies to move up to 50 percent of their appropriations across budget lines for IT projects identified between planning cycles, if the agencies are meeting 80 percent of their performance measures.
Agencies spent the first half of fiscal 2000 planning for the 2002-03 biennium. Yet it is unlikely that anyone can accurately anticipate the kinds of technology or trends in electronic government that will be available two to three years from now. Allowing agencies to move funds across budget lines will provide them with an alternative source of funding for projects or new initiatives that develop between planning cycles. The General Appropriations Act already allows most agencies to move up to 25 percent of their appropriations across line items; this proposal would give them an additional 25 percent, provided they are substantially meeting their performance measures.
Agencies must report quarterly and annually on their performance measures to the Legislative Budget Board, giving state policymakers a timely way of evaluating agency performance. Linking agencies’ ability to move funds to their performance measures would ensure that they continue meeting the state’s goals.
These recommendations could be accomplished within existing resources in DIR and resources that may be appropriated to the proposed PMO.
 James Cortada, Best Practices in Information Technology: How Corporations Get the Most Value from Exploiting Their Digital Investments (Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall, 1998), p. 17.
 James Cortada, Best Practices in Information Technology: How Corporations Get the Most Value from Exploiting Their Digital Investments, pp. 22-23.
 Larry J. Singer, “Public vs. Private Sector IT Strategies,” GovTech.net (August 1995) (http://www.govtech.net/publications/gt/1995/aug/columns/singer.shtm). (Internet document.)