Taking Risks and Breaking Routines With a California IT Project

Connect with state & local government leaders
 

Connecting state and local government leaders

“We knew that the status quo would possibly provide a costly, unsatisfactory project that failed everyone,” says the secretary of the California Government Operations Agency.

When Marybel Batjer took her current leadership post in California’s state government, she’d been away from the public sector for about eight years.

“Much had changed,” Batjer said, recalling her impressions after Gov. Jerry Brown appointed her in 2013 as secretary of the California Government Operations Agency.

“I could feel that public servants were a bit defeated, a bit run down and not feeling that their new ideas would matter much,” she added, during remarks made Wednesday at the annual Code for America Summit, which is underway this week in Oakland, California.

California’s Government Operations Agency oversees state operations such as procurement, information technology, and human resources. A priority Batjer said she established early in her tenure at the agency was to find new ways of making sense of government processes, so that those processes could add value to the policies they are designed to implement.

This, in her view, demands an atmosphere that allows for more risk than might typically be tolerated in the public sector. “Government thrives on routine,” Batjer said. “Workers know that they can’t get criticized for doing something the way it’s always been done and approved.”

“Managers are able to follow a known path,” she added. “Unfortunately, that environment usually doesn’t leave space for new ideas.”

Batjer offered an example on Wednesday of a project where the state broke from a routine.

This involved upgrading a troubled information technology system the state uses for child welfare services. “The IT system we have for child welfare is functional, just barely, and not at a level that the federal government requires,” Batjer said. “And it hasn’t been since 1993.”

It was about a year ago, she said, when the state was preparing to go public with the seventh version of a request for proposals to upgrade the system.

The RFP had been labored over for three years, Batjer noted.

“Those familiar with it,” she said, “knew that, at best, that RFP would produce a project that would likely be late, and may be over budget and even well-written specs would produce something outdated by the time it was delivered, if we were lucky, five years from now.”

Around this time, Will Lightbourne, director of the California Department of Social Services, contacted Code for America and asked the group to review the RFP. Code for America is a nonprofit group that works to improve the use of technology in government.

The review, according to Batjer, prompted the nonprofit to swiftly request a meeting with state officials. Code for America staff suggested California use an “agile” approach for procuring the upgraded IT system, breaking the request for proposals into multiple, smaller pieces.

A possible advantage with this type of approach is that the state would be able to deploy parts of the new technology in less time than it would take to create a single, larger final product. It also provided a path to troubleshoot and improve chunks of the technology as they were released, rather than tackling the same process with the entire IT system all at once.

In the weeks that followed, Batjer said she and the rest of the team working on the project were able to secure support from the governor’s office, state legislators, federal authorities, and county-level welfare directors to move forward with the agile approach.

“The right people were willing to take the risk,” she explained, “because we knew that the status quo would possibly provide a costly, unsatisfactory project that failed everyone.”

Batjer said she recently heard from a state employee who’d worked on the IT project for almost 10 years, who said the state was on track to have a product in-hand in less than a year. “After a decade of working on it that had produced nothing,” Batjer said. “How awesome is that?”

X
This website uses cookies to enhance user experience and to analyze performance and traffic on our website. We also share information about your use of our site with our social media, advertising and analytics partners. Learn More / Do Not Sell My Personal Information
Accept Cookies
X
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Do Not Sell My Personal Information

When you visit our website, we store cookies on your browser to collect information. The information collected might relate to you, your preferences or your device, and is mostly used to make the site work as you expect it to and to provide a more personalized web experience. However, you can choose not to allow certain types of cookies, which may impact your experience of the site and the services we are able to offer. Click on the different category headings to find out more and change our default settings according to your preference. You cannot opt-out of our First Party Strictly Necessary Cookies as they are deployed in order to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting the cookie banner and remembering your settings, to log into your account, to redirect you when you log out, etc.). For more information about the First and Third Party Cookies used please follow this link.

Allow All Cookies

Manage Consent Preferences

Strictly Necessary Cookies - Always Active

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data, Targeting & Social Media Cookies

Under the California Consumer Privacy Act, you have the right to opt-out of the sale of your personal information to third parties. These cookies collect information for analytics and to personalize your experience with targeted ads. You may exercise your right to opt out of the sale of personal information by using this toggle switch. If you opt out we will not be able to offer you personalised ads and will not hand over your personal information to any third parties. Additionally, you may contact our legal department for further clarification about your rights as a California consumer by using this Exercise My Rights link

If you have enabled privacy controls on your browser (such as a plugin), we have to take that as a valid request to opt-out. Therefore we would not be able to track your activity through the web. This may affect our ability to personalize ads according to your preferences.

Targeting cookies may be set through our site by our advertising partners. They may be used by those companies to build a profile of your interests and show you relevant adverts on other sites. They do not store directly personal information, but are based on uniquely identifying your browser and internet device. If you do not allow these cookies, you will experience less targeted advertising.

Social media cookies are set by a range of social media services that we have added to the site to enable you to share our content with your friends and networks. They are capable of tracking your browser across other sites and building up a profile of your interests. This may impact the content and messages you see on other websites you visit. If you do not allow these cookies you may not be able to use or see these sharing tools.

If you want to opt out of all of our lead reports and lists, please submit a privacy request at our Do Not Sell page.

Save Settings
Cookie Preferences Cookie List

Cookie List

A cookie is a small piece of data (text file) that a website – when visited by a user – asks your browser to store on your device in order to remember information about you, such as your language preference or login information. Those cookies are set by us and called first-party cookies. We also use third-party cookies – which are cookies from a domain different than the domain of the website you are visiting – for our advertising and marketing efforts. More specifically, we use cookies and other tracking technologies for the following purposes:

Strictly Necessary Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Functional Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Performance Cookies

We do not allow you to opt-out of our certain cookies, as they are necessary to ensure the proper functioning of our website (such as prompting our cookie banner and remembering your privacy choices) and/or to monitor site performance. These cookies are not used in a way that constitutes a “sale” of your data under the CCPA. You can set your browser to block or alert you about these cookies, but some parts of the site will not work as intended if you do so. You can usually find these settings in the Options or Preferences menu of your browser. Visit www.allaboutcookies.org to learn more.

Sale of Personal Data

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Social Media Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.

Targeting Cookies

We also use cookies to personalize your experience on our websites, including by determining the most relevant content and advertisements to show you, and to monitor site traffic and performance, so that we may improve our websites and your experience. You may opt out of our use of such cookies (and the associated “sale” of your Personal Information) by using this toggle switch. You will still see some advertising, regardless of your selection. Because we do not track you across different devices, browsers and GEMG properties, your selection will take effect only on this browser, this device and this website.