Wisconsin's Accountability, Consolidation, and Efficiency Initiative's IT Projects Overrun A Bit

The Governor of Wisconsin Jim Doyle began a program in March 2005 called the Accountability, Consolidation, and Efficiency (ACE) Initiative to significantly improve the administrative functions of the state's Department of Administration (DOA) by June 2009. The DOA, according to this state press release,  facilitates various administrative functions for Wisconsin state agencies, including managing human resources, purchasing goods and services, supporting computers and networks, and selling surplus state property.

Claims were made that the ACE Initiative would save $200 million over the four-year life of the project, with a lot of the savings coming from improvement in the state's IT operations.

Last week, Wisconsin state auditors cast lots of doubt on the $200 million savings figure, with one of the main reasons being - you guessed it - problems with trying to improve IT.

For example, one of ACE's objectives was to consolidate the state's computer servers across Wisconsin's 20 state agencies. So far, the audit report states that, as of June 2009:

"consolidated server and network support functions in only 7 of the 20 state agencies for which consolidation had been planned, while consolidation efforts for the other 13 are in various stages of completion. The 13 agencies continue to be responsible for operating and maintaining their own servers. To compensate for the elimination of their server and network support positions, these agencies have hired contractors, temporarily borrowed staff from other state agencies, and reassigned server and network support tasks to their remaining staff."

In addition, the planned server consolidation was only supposed to cost $12.8 million, but in fact it has cost the state $90.9 million so far, and, if completed as predicted next year as now planned, will cost a total of $110 million: some nine times over budget.

State agency email systems have been successfully consolidated, the auditors note, except that the final cost was $13.4 million - some five times higher than the originally estimated cost of $2.6 million.

A third element of the ACE Initiative's goal for improving IT operations was the creation of an Integrated Business Information System or IBIS, which was intended to replace much of the existing administrative software used by Wisconsin state agencies. The project was estimated in 2005 to cost $135 million, with a project savings of between $35.4 million to $90.9 million being realized over ten years.

In May 2006, the auditors say, the DOA executed a contract with Oracle to purchase PeopleSoft Enterprise Solution software for IBIS. However, in April 2008, work on IBIS was suspended by the state because Wisconsin's dire financial straits wouldn't allow state agencies to provide the IT personnel required to staff the project.

So far, some $9.1 million has been spent on the IBIS project, with the Wisconsin still being on the hook for another $4.2 million in lease/license payments.

Given the previous overruns of nine and five times over planned budget on much simpler IT projects, taxpayers in Wisconsin should probably heave a huge sigh of relief at the IBIS suspension. The auditors dryly note that before a decision is made to restart IBIS, that

"Based on the project’s cost, scope, and importance, continued legislative scrutiny of IBIS is warranted."

According to this Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel story, state legislators twice passed requirements that Wisconsin's Governor Jim Doyle detail the savings or costs of the ACE Initiative, but he vetoed them both times.

Little wonder why.

The Governor may want to veto the initiative name of ACE too. Seems a tad inappropriate.

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