Faster, more efficient and more secure: Washington state’s business systems will get some major tech updates
Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed an executive order that directs Washington state agencies to update many of the state’s technology systems — some of them from the dinosaur era, in computer years. These systems help the state continue uninterrupted services to Washingtonians and are overdue for important and more current technology updates.
Walk into an average home today and you won’t likely see a clunky television with bunny ears or an old icebox in the kitchen. And maybe not even a computer with a dial-up modem.
Some state government systems operate on the equivalents of those bunny ears: 50-year-old mainframe technology for the state’s financial system. Programming code so old that fewer and fewer technicians know how to fix it. Old systems that make it more difficult to search for the best price for taxpayers when the state purchases items that range from pens to light bulbs to computer programs.
Gov. Jay Inslee recognizes there’s a need to modernize the systems that do more than keep state government running, but will actually change the way the state works, and the ways public servants can innovate. That’s why he issued an executive order in October to set the vision. The order, One Washington, outlines how to update decades-old products and systems, and directs agencies to prioritize this work.
James Weaver, the state’s Chief Information Officer, said the state’s Washington Technology Solutions agency is excited about the plan to modernize the state’s technology.
“The governor’s support for One Washington has been crucial to help us move forward as a state to optimize and transform government services through technology,” Weaver said. “This is the most significant project under oversight by the Office of the Chief Information Officer and represents an efficient and balanced approach to government cloud computing.”
Washington state government operates like many businesses, although on a larger scale. It operates administrative systems so government can create and manage budgets, pay employees and vendors, manage human resources, monitor spending and investments, and purchase goods and services — all in support of the mission to serve Washingtonians and be good stewards of taxpayer resources.
Just as technology makes personal lives easier and saves time, it also make thousands of jobs easier — and various systems more secure and efficient. But many parts of the state’s computing infrastructure are becoming obsolete. That means there’s a rapidly diminishing pool of qualified technicians available to patch decades-old programs. And far too many parts are inefficient, needing replacement with faster, more reliable and safer products. This aging infrastructure costs the state money and time to keep operating, and poses increasing risks of data breach.
The primary target of the initial tech-update effort is the state’s Agency Financial Reporting System. If AFRS failed, it could disrupt billions of dollars in paychecks and vendor payments across the state.
One Washington Executive Director Vann Smiley said he’s excited about what lies ahead.
“The governor’s order directs executive branch agencies to align their work with the modernization of the state’s administrative functions,” Smiley said. “It’s an enormous effort to get your head around. Our goal is to select a system that allows the state to both modernize the administrative tools we’re working with and integrate them seamlessly. For instance, we’ll be able to see what happens as soon as we place an order. We’ve never before had this ability.”
One tech-update solution includes updating how the state purchases items and streamlining it into one centralized system. This will allow the state to leverage billions of dollars in annual buying power across the variety of goods and services it buys, and magnify the ability to be even more responsible with taxpayer resources.
A key aspect of modernizing the state’s technology is that the state will move its administrative functions to a cloud-based “software as a service” model, which offers a couple of advantages:
- The software is highly configurable to meet the business needs of the state.
- Software vendors can bring new functions to customers without the risks and delays caused by code modifications.
Cloud-based business software works much the same way as smartphones, with tech companies constantly introducing evolved features based on security, customer needs and demands.
Health Care Authority’s Deputy Director Lou McDermott is one of the agency leaders on the project’s executive steering committee, along with others. He said he appreciates how much better state government will be able to deliver services.
“Today, it can take many weeks of human effort to compile all the numbers, try to connect the numbers and understand relationships of the numbers,” McDermott said. “Real time decision-making, not so much. Multiply this reality across all state agencies. We can fix this. If faster and smarter constituent services is a goal — and it is — then modernizing the state’s own administrative operations is essential.”