Phil Tomassini is retiring as Chief Information Officer for PennDOT. He headed IT there for 7 years, capping a 35 year state digital career. Gov. Tom Wolf added economic-development and emergency-prep agencies to Tomassini’s load as part of an IT consolidation last year. Tomassini agreed to address changes in IT procurement if we sent questions in writing. Some highlights, edited for space and clarity:
What were you able to improve? The biggest impact, I think, has been made in providing our employees with access to data, information and systems, regardless of their work location — road or bridge projects, administering driver exams, performing inspections. We have greatly expanded our use of mobile devices and apps… The construction inspection mobile app is the most impressive. Based upon its usage during our construction season, it is realizing over $17 million in operational savings annually.
How has IT procurement evolved? Three specific ways:
–Rapid change in technology options – Keeping up with new technology and determining if and how it fits in the organization has become a greater challenge.
–Security – We are responsible for mission-critical applications and customer information. That is the most important responsibility a CIO has. The security space is changing rapidly and the threats are always adapting, which makes developing a robust security approach and roadmap essential.
–Customer savvy – Almost everyone has a smart device of some kind and we have grown accustomed to having real-time access to information and collaborating with others…
Years ago, we would use an “all at once” approach in which all requirements were gathered, designs completed, development work was done, testing was done and then you implemented the entire solution. This often meant that program areas had to wait for a very long time to see any improvements to their processes. By using an iterative [or agile] approach, we are able to implement system enhancements sooner, resulting in improved business processes.
You joked awhile back about PennDOT being a low-mobility organization. How do you measure improvement? We had identified a core set of IT objectives that included mobility and collaboration [so that] our solutions could be used regardless of location [and be more efficient.} Additionally, we began to carve out personnel to focus on mobile specific solutions. And just as importantly, we began to train staff on mobile application skills, user experience design and agile project management…
The construction inspection mobile app is an example of how we measure the improvements made to our business processes. Using the app allows our inspectors to spend more time in the field and less time on administrative tasks, which makes them more productive.
States and other heavy users used to build software from scratch. What impact have off-the-shelf solutions had on cost, efficiency, management? In general, the commonwealth has been moving towards an approach of implementing projects incrementally or in phases rather than through large, all-at-once implementations.
As more commercial, off the shelf (COTS) products have become available in the marketplace, we are also able to use less custom software. COTS products tend to be less costly to develop and maintain because you are using the same product as others with the same requirements.
What makes for good IT management? Good IT management in state government requires the implementation of industry standard best practices. We need to make sure our core services are aligned to these best practices. We also need to make sure we have appropriate governance within agencies and across the enterprise. Finally, we need to track metrics for our service delivery to make sure we are delivering to our customers, the agencies, so they can deliver to the citizens of Pennsylvania.
What’s the difference between government and private-sector IT? While I’ve spent my entire career working in the public sector, we understand that citizens place the same expectations on service levels for both public and private sector entities and as a result, state governments have to constantly adapt as technology evolves.
All projects require an understanding of available time associated with resources. As with the private sector, the effective scheduling of staff resources is the key component to success. In my career I have found that our employees go above and beyond and are just as dedicated to the success of projects.
When do you hire contractors, when do you build and use a state IT staff? Sourcing a project with either in-house or outsourced resources depends on a number of factors. In general, the commonwealth evaluates things such as mandated timelines, technology platform, skillsets required, cost effectiveness, interdependencies with other systems and other factors to make a sourcing decision.
When do you use IT Staff Augmentation, outside hires on an as-needed basis? IT staff augmentation is used for short-term staffing needs and to bring in skills that are not available within our own workforce.
The state has IT projects completed by staff, by contract, and by staff-augmentation arrangements. Which model will dominate? It’s difficult to say that one should grow while the other should decrease. Sourcing an IT system requires the evaluation of a set of criteria to make the best decision at the time to meet a business objective. The mix of resources will fluctuate based on the needs of the organization.
Many state IT jobs don’t attract qualified competing bidders. What is the impact of non-competitive contracting on the cost of the work? The overwhelming majority of commonwealth procurements are competitively bid. Over a recent three-year period, there were nearly 167,000 purchase orders. Of those, only 260 were sole source purchase orders and out of that 260 only 27 were IT. This represents only 16 thousandths of a percent (0.016%) of purchases orders over that time. However, there are industries in which there is only one supplier. In these instances, the Procurement Code allows for a sole source. (I’ve asked for clarification on competition for major IT jobs at the agency.)
Competitive bidding is indeed beneficial and the commonwealth has worked to increase overall awareness of and response to procurements. Prior to publicly posting procurements, we do extensive market research to identify potential suppliers. We invite them to attend a supplier forum to get feedback on market trends, best practices, sourcing strategy, etc. The supplier forum invitation is publicly posted on the eMarketplace website.
Which is the model public agency for IT contracting? The federal government’s GSA serves as a model for states, and states can piggyback off GSA contracts. The National Association of State Procurement Officers (NASPO) ValuePoint is another cooperative contracting organization that is available for states and local governments.
What is the proportion of non-U.S. citizen and foreign-born IT employees and contractors in your organization, and how has this changed over time? It is illegal to require someone to disclose his or her ethnicity or national origin. The commonwealth uses the federal E-Verify system to confirm that its new hires are eligible to work in the United States. We do not collect data on nation of birth from job applicants or employees. Similarly, contractors are responsible for certifying their employees are legally able to work in the U.S.
I hear from readers who say they can’t get hired as “older IT workers,” does the state receive many applications from people with IT experience but a lack or mismatch of skills? The commonwealth does not ask for age or date of birth in its job applications. Discrimination in hiring on the basis of age is prohibited by commonwealth policy and state and federal law.
What should IT workers do to keep their skills relevant? I would encourage any IT professional to continually invest in their knowledge and skills, whether it is just to remain current in your field or move up the career ladder. There are numerous trade publications that focus on new developments in public sector IT. We also offer development opportunities to employees through annual conferences. Finally we provide technical, management and leadership trainings on a regular basis.
What is the status of the PennDOT-DEP online-permitting project and of the eCAMMS highway application? How do we measure effectiveness? The Keystone Environmental e-Permitting Solution (KEeS) has been in production since June 2017. This solution enables PennDOT to electronically submit specific environmental permit applications to DEP for review and approval. The solution improves the data quality for PennDOT’s submissions, provides transparency on the status of each of the permits requested and ultimately improves each agencies’ ability to complete the process in a more timely manner. eCAMMS has been in production for several years now. It has decentralized our processes while integrating with several of our major highway application systems.
I asked a few follow-up questions and will update. Tomassini says he’s looking forward to spending more time with his wife, four daughters, and grandchildren.