Fingerprints on State IT Outsourcing

Coverage of the genesis and ongoing process of Virginia’s massive IT outsourcing projects has been late and not particularly illuminating. It wasn’t mentioned during the gubernatorial campaign and no one seems to be out in front on it, making the case. I’ve been interested from the beginning on just who is or was the guiding force–who will take the applause or the blame a few years down the road?

Columnist William Welsh of the boosterish Washington Technology magazine had a piece yesterday that provided some insight.

Was the outsourcing Governor Mark Warner’s baby? Welsh says he spoke with Warner:

I wanted to gauge how serious he was about Virginia’s nascent IT outsourcing initiative and how hard he was going to work to make it happen.

“We are the first ones to do this,” he said.

I don’t know if Welsh got a more expansive answer from the Governor, but the response is vintage Warner, a sign of his genius. Instead of answering the question asked, he set himself up to take the legacy credit if the initiative succeeds or to deflect blame if it fails.

Welsh credits former Secretary of Technology George Newstrom and Chief Information Officer Lemuel Stewart for the outsourcing project, but without so much as a quote or third party confirmation.

What really might be the driving force behind the outsourcing is revealed in Welsh’s closing comment:

Contractors have waited a long time for a state IT outsourcing opportunity of this scope. They should make every effort to ensure it succeeds by meeting milestones and performance standards, ensuring the state gets the savings and new facilities promised, and that state workers get job benefits and fresh opportunities that are as good, if not better, than what they had working for the state.

It’s the responsible thing to do.

In other words, Virginia let us get our nose under the tent–here’s our big chance. Get this right and there will be more opportunities in other states.

There’s nothing wrong with that strategy, but we should be vigilant that perception and reality are aligned. Beware of the big vendors managing perceptions for the Virginia project to gain contracts elsewhere.

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2 responses to “Fingerprints on State IT Outsourcing”

  1. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Will, I agree with you, the MSM coverage of the largest state IT outsourcing project in the country — a $2 billion project over 10 years — has been pathetic. The T-D has conducted the mandatory “public event” reporting, but nothing in depth. I haven’t seen anything substantial from the other Virginia dailies. No one is asking the kind of questions you are.

    I’ll be addressing some issues related to VITA and outsourcing in the next Bacon’s Rebellion e-zine based on a refreshingly candid conversation with Secretary of Technology Eugene Huang. My big question was, “You promised big savings when lobbying for the legislation. Where are they?” Stay tuned.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    There have been many asking the questions… VITA just doesn’t answer.

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