New IT procurement reforms get test drive in Calif.

The state of California has been busy reassessing and rewriting the rulebooks for IT procurement and project management. From multi-departmental projects to single program initiatives, the state is now implementing reforms on big-ticket IT projects first drafted nearly two years ago. Although ushered by policies set at the Office of the State Chief Information Officer, multiple departments and offices are promoting what works and burying what doesn’t.

As one might assume, the state’s procurement authority, the Department of General Services (DGS), has had an instrumental role in crafting and implementing IT reforms dealing with business case development, project approval and Requests for Proposals (RFPs).

Last summer, officials announced the state’s new IT procurement processes, intended to address pre-solicitation delays, increase vendor participation and produce better outcomes. Sprawling and extremely detailed RFPs make it hard on both sides of the procurement process, so part of the reforms have made the process much more collaborative between state and private sector stakeholders. The idea is that small RFP teams are organized into “RFP boot camps” comprised of OCIO, DGS and agency level officials.

During In an interview with Jim Butler, the state’s Chief Procurement Officer, he indicated the state’s IT reforms were paying off early dividends.

The RFP boot camps have been “a big success,” Butler said. “It used to take up to 400 days to get requirements documented, drafting solicitations and getting it out on the street. Now it’s taking 90 days – it’s a huge improvement, and other departments want to do boot camps. They’re seeing the value.”

“One of the things I learned early on, in the private sector, is that there’s a life cycle, and if you can’t get things done in 18 to 24 months, they’ll die under their own weight. So if the procurement alone takes you 2 years, you’re dead before you get started.”

Butler also said he’s noticed an increase in the amount of vendors who want to do business with the state. “Bidders are more interested in working with the state – the process is costing them less and we’re doing things faster with higher levels of participation.”

One of the first projects under the new reforms was a construction management system for the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). Butler said the project was “on schedule” and that work should be complete in nine to ten months. Although the Caltrans project is off to a good start, it doesn’t incorporate all the facets of California’s IT procurement reforms.

In addition to the shortened RFP process, reforms envisioned an expanded use of pilot projects and multi-stage procurements.

Multi-stage, Muliti-departmental

Multi-stage procurements involve a single procurement that is divided into multiple stages, where multiple vendors are selected through a traditional RFP then paid a lump sum to propose a “proof of concept” in what is referred to as a “bake-off.” During this second stage, vendors must also propose how to expand their “proof of concept” to the entire system.

This process was recently advocated by the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), and last week, the Office of System Integration (OSI) unveiled a new framework to help manage multi-departmental projects successfully. OSI is part of the California Health and Human Services Agency, responsible for large and complex IT projects that span multiple agencies and levels of government. Some projects in OSI’s portfolio include the Electronic Benefits Transfer system, the Statewide Fingerprint Image System, and the Unemployment Insurance Modernization project.

The OSI Framework for Multi-Departmental Projects, is a resource that identifies best practices in management, governance and technical architectures. In a blog post, OCIO Director of Communications Bill Maile likened the framework to his agencies Capitla Planning process where business planning is combined with technology requirements across all agencies to identify a common view of technologies and processes.

“Like the IT Capital Planning process, OSI’s Framework is taking project management to the next level, bringing together stakeholders and convincing executives across the bureaucracy to work together toward the success of IT projects,” Mr. Maile wrote.

Like the RFP boot camps and multi-stage procurements, the mulit-departmental framework is meant to streamline the process of implementing complex IT systems, ultimately improving the quality of life for all Californians. Although the state has faced challenges with projects like their unemployment benefits system, Mr. Butler believes the reforms are laying a foundation that will bring IT procurement and project management into the 21st century.

“We’re optimistic – we know there will be hiccups as we go, but we’re committed to making it work.”