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Minnesota sees early successes from consolidation of State IT

October 15, 2013

State garners national accolades

As the State of Minnesota marks the second anniversary of executive branch IT consolidation this month, two significant achievements are early indicators of the success and value of the monumental two-year effort: the just-announced prestigious national award to the State of Minnesota for Enterprise IT Management from the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO) and the successful launch of the MNsure website, Minnesota’s custom-built health information exchange.

“Neither of these historic accomplishments would have been possible before we consolidated IT,” said Carolyn Parnell, Minnesota’s State CIO and Commissioner of MN.IT Services, the state agency that delivers information technology to the state’s executive branch of government. 

 “Since day one we’ve known consolidation would benefit our customers, our staff members and – most importantly – the citizens of Minnesota long-term.  To see the success so early is clear evidence of the value proposition that will only grow over time.”  

Signed into law by the Minnesota Legislature in July 2011, consolidation brought under one roof the IT functions of 95 state agencies, boards and commissions that had previously been separate. This change, the largest Minnesota state government reorganization in decades, has positioned MN.IT to make more substantial changes over the next few years. Officials expect the long-range plan to result in IT that operates with flexibility, innovation and efficiency and is more responsive and accountable to agency customers. 

Minnesota’s Service Level Agreements win national award

Within its first year of consolidation, MN.IT instituted service level agreements (SLAs) as the centerpiece of IT service management in the newly consolidated environment and the approach, process and results have landed the State a 2013 Enterprise IT Management award from the National Association of State CIOs (NASCIO).  Commissioner Parnell accepted the award on Monday, October 14, at the NASCIO annual conference in Philadelphia.

SLAs are the instrument by which MN.IT Services and agency customers agree on the IT service definitions, costs and metrics for all IT services provided to each individual agency. Within 10 months of consolidating, MN.IT Services delivered 68 comprehensive SLAs to its clients. Each SLA is based on a common template, but reflects the unique as-is IT landscape of each customer’s business environment.

The NASCIO award recognizes Minnesota as a leader in service level management, not just in the government sector, but in private industry as well.  

 “When the legislature handed us the challenge of developing SLAs for our customers, we immediately turned to the IT industry to find best practices and templates we could model our process on,” said Parnell. “But after surveying the landscape, we couldn’t find any SLAs that defined IT services in a way business could easily understand. And the models we looked at weren’t comprehensive – they were more similar to Operational Level Agreements than SLAs.”

The first MN.IT SLAs required a lot of behind- the-scenes efforts to prepare the final product, including the identification and centralization of IT staff embedded within agency business, the development of a Service Reference Model with common service and function definitions, and the analysis of IT budgets for all agencies in the executive branch.  Moving forward, the SLAs are reviewed quarterly with agency customers, and serve as the foundation for the dialog between IT and business.

“Receiving recognition from my peers makes me very proud,” said Commissioner Parnell, “because it shows that we have achieved something truly unique and important in the ever-changing, complex world of IT management.”

With SLAs in place, MN.IT has now begun a multi-year effort to redesign and improve the services that are outlined in the agreements, including the creation of the MN.IT Cloud for the delivery of infrastructure services. 

Building MNsure better and faster

Like all states responding to the federal Affordable Care Act, Minnesota faced extremely aggressive deadlines and complicated requirements for its custom insurance exchange, known as MNsure. Responsible for standing up the infrastructure and managing both the security and ongoing operations of the system, the newly consolidated MN.IT organization had some advantages.  

“I can’t imagine how much harder it would have been to fast-track a system this complex in our old federated environment,” said Parnell. “The business side of the exchange spans the responsibilities of a variety of agencies. Our IT approach needed to be similarly organized and our security needed to be top notch. Having recently consolidated, we were able to quickly pull together the talent, the infrastructure and the assets we needed to get the job done.”

Project management, technical and security teams consisting of staff from a variety of agency-based offices were formed to work full time on MNsure. The new Tier III data center made possible through consolidation was ready to provide a high security environment for the system, and the State leveraged MNsure resources to build a shared infrastructure that will allow the insurance exchange to better integrate with other State health and human services systems, upon which it depends.  

“Our approach,” said Parnell, “was innovative and took advantage of a combined ‘brain trust’ we wouldn’t have had before. It was a great team effort.”

Minnesota launched its custom-built site, MNsure, earlier this month and, although there have been a few glitches during the launch, it is one of the few states that has not had a system crash in the early days of enrollment. 

A bright future

While the last two years have seen huge strides and accomplishments for the State’s IT, the bigger goals remain just over the horizon. Over the next few years, MN.IT  plans to rebuild infrastructure services to be as efficient as possible so the State’s resources can focus on unique program applications that serve the State’s citizens and contribute to Governor Mark Dayton’s goals of improving government efficiency.