It is not a good time to be a state with IT problems.
This past Monday, the New Jersey Motor Vehicle Commission finally re-opened its offices to conduct business on Mondays for the first time in almost a year. However, a little over an hour after the MVC offices opened, the MVC computer system crashed for some four hours, creating long lines and angry customers not only for the rest of the day but also extending into Tuesday, various news media reported. Closing MVC offices on Monday took effect last August as part of New Jersey state budget cuts.
Monday's outage was the second in less than three weeks, which caused NJ state Senate legislators to call for hearings into the matter. The legislators, who are Democrats, want to investigate whether the state budget cuts ordered by Republican Governor Chris Christie has created "weaknesses" in the state's IT systems.
Republican state Treasurer Andrew Eristof retorted in an article at New Jersey Newsroom.com that it was, in fact, the Democrats who cut the state's IT budget, and if the state's taxpayers want to get angry at someone about the problems at the MVC, it should be the Democratic legislators, and not the governor.
Trying to sort out the blame for IT failure will soon be the sport of politicians in Colorado as well. According to a story in the Pueblo Chieftain, a state audit of the Colorado's core financial IT system called the Colorado Financial Reporting System (COFRS) found that it "is at significant risk of partial or complete failure and can no longer be supported by outside vendors or maintained by existing resources within the state."
If COFRS was to suffer an outage, says Dara Hessee, chief of staff for the governor's Office of Information Technology in thisAP story, it would be catastrophic:
"Nothing really works [in Colorado] unless the system does."
The Pueblo Chieftain story also says that:
"COFRS was installed in 1991 and cost about $19 million. In fiscal year 2010 it processed $36 billion in expenditures and tracked $34 billion in revenue."
However, since COFRS was installed, "... no funds were allocated for maintenance, gradual upgrades or replacement of the system" reports the Chieftain. In addition, there are only three state employees who are familiar with the software underlying COFRS, and each is set to retire within three years.
Exacerbating the risk is that Colorado does not have the $20 million plus it will take to replace COFRS which will take at least five years. I hope the state is feeling lucky.
And just to make things more interesting, last week the Denver Post reported that a federal audit states that there are still major problems with Colorado's Benefits Management System that the state has to come with money to fix. If it doesn't, then the state may lose millions of dollars in federal funds.
As I said, it is not a good time for a state to have IT problems.
Robert N. Charette is a Contributing Editor to IEEE Spectrum and an acknowledged international authority on information technology and systems risk management. A self-described “risk ecologist,” he is interested in the intersections of business, political, technological, and societal risks. Charette is an award-winning author of multiple books and numerous articles on the subjects of risk management, project and program management, innovation, and entrepreneurship. A Life Senior Member of the IEEE, Charette was a recipient of the IEEE Computer Society’s Golden Core Award in 2008.