Walk & Talk: The number cruncher saving Colorado millions

Colorado Digital Transformation Officer Brandon Williams highlights the state IT agency's efforts to integrate cost avoidance into its technology projects.

Editor’s Note: Since May 2017, Brandon Williams, Colorado’s Digital Transformation Officer, has been publishing videos in which he “walks and talks” with his colleagues at the Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology. In June 2017, StateScoop and OIT partnered to give the series a home on StateScoop. The posts are also available on OIT’s blog , and via a YouTube playlist .

Gary Hodge has achieved something my parents and teachers would be proud of — he made me care about math.

I was a history major in college — driven by heart and emotion rather than logic, and I freely admit math is not my strong point.

Gary, however, showed me how to use math to tell a story that I care deeply about: cost avoidance.

At the Colorado Governor’s Office of Information Technology, the money we spend is not OIT’s money. It is my money. It is my family’s money. It is my friends’ hard-earned dollars that have ended up as tax dollars.

When government asks for money to spend, it’s on the hook to demonstrate the return on that investment and the cost savings or avoidance. There is so much room for improvement here. How often does it feel like we start a project, hurl a few numbers at a board and jam on, finishing that project and immediately jumping to take on the next challenge? Time goes on and lessons learned are lost, past project fiscal analysis discarded or forgotten, and the world of the “now” has taken over.

A few years ago, I met Gary and started talking with him about how to invert that. My team is made up of liberal arts majors, who rely on tip calculators to get by (myself included). In talking with Gary, we wanted to front end, standardize, document and track our cost avoidance, meticulously noting contract stand-downs, reduction in duplication of spends, etc. We saw value in the story, but didn’t know quite how to tell it.

Gary helped us by giving us guidelines and templates, and patiently explaining the ins and outs. He provided resources such as the National Association of State Procurement Officers (NASPO) Benchmarking, Cost Savings and Avoidance Guidelines — something I would’ve never found nor read on my own in a million years — to help get our information in order.

The result? In the past several years we’ve reported north of $12.5 million in cost avoidance from our three person Google team — way in excess of what we’ve actually spent for the system.

In the first two years, our reporting constituted 80 percent for each year of the total reported cost avoidance for OIT.

While we are certainly proud of that, we were way more proud that for the fiscal year ending in 2016. We doubled our numbers ($7.2 million) yet only constituted 50 percent of the total reported cost avoidance, because other programs started to also identify, track and report theirs as well.

There are two convergences here that are important and why we aim to improve further:

Gary rocks. Not only as a fiscal officer that we’ve grown close with professionally, but personally just because he is Gary. Patient, guiding, kind and funny. We’re still working on a plan where he can retire and still play and help us break a few more things.

If you’re interested in doing a Walk & Talk in your state or local government, contact Jake Williams, StateScoop’s Associate Publisher and Director of Strategic Initiatives here .

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Brandon Williams, Colorado, Walk & Talk