% fortune -ae paul murphy

The Microsoft fact in Illinois

Microsoft, like most IT suppliers, tracks its successes and makes summary information about at least some of them available on its promotional web site.

One such case study revolves on the decision by the State of Illinois to standardize on Microsoft's servers and related technologies. Here's Microsoft's summary:

State of Illinois

With a directive to increase efficiency and reduce costs, the State of Illinois embarked on an ambitious process to improve the overall effectiveness of the state government. In the IT realm, improving efficiency meant standardizing the state's three decentralized messaging systems and moving to a single desktop software solution to enhance user productivity and collaboration. The state selected Microsoft® technology, including Windows Server 2003, Exchange Server 2003, Systems Management Server 2003, and Office Professional Edition 2003 for its new solution, which will generate U.S.$10.5 million in savings over a five-year period. It also will provide for smoother communications among employees and more effective IT management. Ultimately, the Microsoft software-based solution will help the state serve its 12 million constituents more quickly while saving taxpayer dollars.

The report itself is nominally by Paul Campbell, Director, Department of Central Management Services, State of Illinois.

Here's his situation summary:

The State of Illinois governs 56,400 square miles in the U.S. Midwest region and is responsible for everything from tax collection to child protection services to highway construction. The government is divided into more than 50 state agencies and employs approximately 57,000 people. When Governor Rod Blagojevich took office in January 2003, he faced a U.S.$5 billion annual deficit and pledged to increase efficiency within the state government without raising income or sales taxes. His plan was to run the government more like a business, increasing accountability, streamlining processes, and conserving resources.

Opportunities for Improvement

One of the areas that was ripe for change was the state's IT infrastructure. In the past, each agency was responsible for its own hardware and software procurement, implementation, and management, resulting in a vast number of disparate operating systems and applications. The state opted to consolidate all the agencies IT services into a single entity called the Bureau of Communication and Computer Services (BCCS) in the Department of Central Management Services (CMS).

The first step was organizational consolidation, says Paul Campbell, Director of Central Management Services. Once we created BCCS, the next step was to continue the consolidation effort by tackling one of our most persistent problem areas statewide: messaging. The state's messaging infrastructure consisted of a mix of systems, including IBM Lotus Notes, Novell GroupWise, and Microsoft® Exchange Server, with multiple versions of those systems in use throughout the organization. With no standard messaging infrastructure, state employees could not easily communicate with one another. The state had no global address list, and each agency had its own naming convention for e-mail addresses, which meant that employees had to guess at the correct e-mail alias for another state employee or sort through agency lists in the hopes of finding the right information.

We were stymied when it came to direct communication, says Campbell. Something as simple as scheduling a meeting required a flurry of e-mail messages to try to find a mutually acceptable time. We had no way to share calendars, contacts, or tasks, so everything took longer than it should.

The lack of visibility into other agencies made it difficult for employees to maintain their desired level of public service. State government is collaborative by nature, but reaching out to our colleagues in other agencies to get information for constituents or lawmakers was time-consuming and often frustrating, says Tony Daniels, Deputy Director of the Bureau of Communication and Computer Services. We wanted a more consistent messaging system that would make it faster and easier to communicate among ourselves so that we could serve the public better.

And here's his "Solution" summary:

The State of Illinois decided to implement new desktop software as well as messaging standards. The effort began in 2005 with a careful examination of the products that made up its current environment. Members of the Department of Central Management Services evaluated systems from IBM, Novell, and Microsoft. We decided against a system from IBM on the basis that it would not satisfy both our desktop application and messaging needs, says Matthews.

Even though about half of all state users were on some version of Novell GroupWise for messaging, CMS did not pursue a Novell-based solution. We felt as though Novell didn't have a desktop productivity offering that was right for us and that its position in the marketplace wasn't clearly defined, says Matthews.

Novell was in the process of changing out its fundamental platforms to incorporate Linux technology. CMS did not want to pursue a Linux-based system because it considered an open source system too risky to implement, given the organizational transition. It would have meant too much pain for us to move to an open source system at this time, says Matthews. In government, IT is all about consistency and reliability. So for us, stacking up mismatched parts doesn't make good business sense in terms of usability.

We needed a more well-defined, proven solution, so standardizing on Microsoft technology fit us best. Microsoft provided the most consistent, most reliable approach because of its strong market presence and the integration between desktop applications and messaging.

CMS selected a standardized messaging solution that includes the Microsoft Exchange Server 2003 communication and collaboration server and the Microsoft Windows Server 2003 operating system with Active Directory service, all part of Microsoft Windows Server System integrated server software. For the state's 57,000 desktop and portable computers, the department will deploy the most appropriate of three profiles: Basic, which adds only Microsoft Office Word 2003; Standard, which includes Microsoft Office

Read this casually and it all seems fair enough - a reasonable report of decisions carefully thought through and made. Read more carefully, however, and you'll notice that every decision is stated in terms of reasons for deciding against something - but each one of those reason is actually a conclusion and no supporting evidence is given for any of them.

We're told, for example that they "decided against a system from IBM on the basis that it would not satisfy both our desktop application and messaging needs" - but no basis is given for requiring that the messaging and desktop applications come from the same vendor, the needs themselves are not defined, and nothing is said about the specific failings in IBM's software warranting this judgment.

Look a bit more carefully yet and you'll notice that every decision touted in the case study ultimately depends first on the assumption that the desktop OS is Windows and secondly on the assertion that the Microsoft solution is preferable because Exchange and Office are functionally integrated. Those assumptions are unsupported by anything in the case study - and therefore the rejection of alternatives like Lotus Smartsuite isn't supported either.

Similarly, we are told that CMS "felt as though Novell didn't have a desktop productivity offering that was right for us" and that "CMS did not want to pursue a Linux-based system because it considered an open source system too risky to implement, given the organizational transition." Since that's really about GroupWise and OpenOffice you'd expect a justification for these positions, but there's nothing there.

You could argue that the sordid facts behind the decisions reported have no place in a high level document of this kind - but there are no footnotes enabling the curious to dig further, and I wasn't able to locate supporting documentation using google either.

What is there, however, is enough to raise some questions. For example, they claim that they couldn't consider an open source solution because of the transition risk - but are cheerfully forcing almost all of their users to abandon the messaging applications they know, mostly Notes and GroupWise, in favor of Exchange -and justifying the impact on users by citing the value of a common OS infrastructure for themselves.

Users, presumably including snow plow operators and day laborers since there are 57,000 PC devices for 57,000 employees, don't care about that underlying infrastructure, they care about the applications -and for a majority of the users those are being changed.

That seems backwards, and if you read the full report carefully I think you'll see quite a few examples where CMS reports a decision reached on no cited evidence - and that decision appears to support a CMS focused infrastructure agenda rather than a user focused applications agenda.

As noted earlier, a google search did not turn up supporting documentation, but I did run across an absolutely beautiful summation of my own suspicions about this project. It's by an unknown author writing part of an audit review of statewide IT performance:

The state Information Technology strategic plan is out of date. It does a fairly good job of relating IT to internal Department of Central Management Services goals, but does not systematically relate IT initiatives to the state's overall policy objectives, except to make passing reference to e-gov initiatives and promoting the satisfaction of users (most of whom are inside the government) with IT services. Since the IT strategic planning process is in a relatively early phase, however, there seems to be positive momentum for continued progress in this area.

Let me repeat the key bit - pretending for the moment that the "It" in the statement refers to the Microsoft adoption program so proudly retailed on Microsoft's site:

It does a fairly good job of relating IT to internal Department of Central Management Services goals, but does not systematically relate IT initiatives to the state's overall policy objectives,

You have to admire that - unless, of course, you're an Illinois tax payer, then you should probably ask a few questions about whose agendas are being served here, and why.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.