Metrics and communication are Alaska's ticket out of a budget nightmare

Technology is a proven way to unjam the budget, but first tech leaders have to show what they can do and how much it costs.

Alaska is a unique state because it’s remote, it’s huge and much of it is frozen, but the familiar story told by the state’s office of Enterprise Technology Services demonstrates the intransigence of state IT’s challenges.

Cybersecurity and budget top the office’s list of concerns, said Jim Steele, state information technology officer. In a video interview recorded September at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers annual conference in Orlando, Fla., Steele explained how the state’s $3.5 billion budget deficit can instill a culture of ‘fear and worry,’ while the threat of a malicious cybersecurity attack keeps the technology crew constantly on their toes.

But with persistence, he said, leaders can keep sights on what’s important.

“We’re a cash-rich state with a cash-flow problem,” Steele said. “We’ve got to get that fixed and I think in the meantime as an enterprise IT group, I need to make sure that I’m in there every day and I’m focused on things that are going to make a difference. … So, probably what keeps me going in there every day is the expectation that things are going to get better and that as a team we’re going to come out ahead.”

Metrics are one of the ways Alaska is meeting its challenges. Key performance indicators for each business group are helping the state stay on track as it pursues IT consolidation. The other big tool, Steele said, is communicating to other businesses what they do.

“We’re an internal service funded organization. So, in other words, we get our money through allocations from the various business units or agencies in and so a big part of that is to have some transparency in the process. I think a lot of folks that think we’re got some big voodoo pot down there that we mix all this stuff together in,” Steele said. “So, we want to be very transparent in how that stuff is built and make sure that we’re taking in as much input as we can as part of that process.”

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