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Will a New Agency Improve Vermont's Digital Services?

Friday, April 28, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Jeff Couture
Gov. Phil Scott has appointed a new secretary to lead the first-of-its-kind Vermont Agency of Digital Services. The cabinet-level job is an effort to move past the state's technology-plagued past.

There's a new state agency in town. You'd never know it from the outside, but 133 State Street is now the home of the Agency of Digital Services.

"I see a lot of opportunity for us to do things better," said John Quinn, Vt. Agency of Digital Services secretary.

Quinn is in charge of guiding the state's information technology endeavors.

"There's silos across state government and being able to remove myself from that and take a holistic view of state government and the way we do things has really helped me put together a plan to modernize our systems," said Quinn.

The new agency, a priority of the Scott administration, dissolves the 14-year-old Department of Information and Innovation or DII. DII has long faced criticism for a number of bungled projects. Perhaps the biggest being Vermont Health Connect, the state's challenged online health care exchange. But there was also the failed $18 million technology makeover at DMV and problems with the Vermont courts case management system to name a few.

Lawmakers have long considered DII projects a kind of budget black hole. Simple answers about an IT project's costs and life expectancy were often hard to come by.

"Those are kind of basic questions you need to know the answers to before you start funding them and DII could not do it," said Sen. Peg Flory, R-Rutland County.

Under the new scheme, staffing will remain the same but agency IT leaders will now report to Quinn, and Quinn will have the ear of administration officials

"In this new model we've left the IT people sitting in the agencies to understand the business, what the programs are, how they interact with the people, so we have a better view of what's going on so we can provide better outcomes," said Quinn.

Despite being a 16-year veteran of DII, the 37-year-old Johnson State grad says he is ready for changes from streamlining procurement to increased automation.

Quinn says one of his first priorities is figuring out how much the state even spends on IT. It was initially thought the state spent about $90 million. Now, it could be as high as $150 million.

Auditor Doug Hoffer, D/P-Vermont, says centralization of authority could help, but that improved project management and training of employees are also key.

"It's not uncommon for us to find that a system even if it's the right system for that department, is not being used optimally," said Hoffer.

Some critics have called the administration changes window dressing. Quinn disagrees. He says that sometimes you need the structural change in order to create the cultural change.


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