Information Technology Strategy

Contra Costa County Information Technology Strategy
Submitted to the Board of Supervisors by the Information Technology Steering Committee August 6, 1996.
Updated and Approved by the ITSC: May of 2000

Purpose
The purpose of Contra Costa County government is to provide quality services to our customers: the county's residents, businesses, and other local governments.  Information Technology offers, perhaps, the single greatest opportunity for maintaining and improving public service in the face of increasing demands and increasing costs.

We can apply technology to make incremental improvements in services or operations, such as tying departmental computers together into a county-wide network, or using voice activated response systems to answer immediate questions for citizens. Technology can also have broader impacts, changing the ways we do our jobs, or changing the types of services we provide and the ways we deliver services. Obtaining full value from technology investments requires the management of organizational change coupled with the management of specific technologies.

This document describes a strategy for using Information Technology (IT) in the county. The strategy includes principles and criteria for decisions on technology investments, policy statements and guidelines on key management issues, and a description of and plan for IT architecture and infrastructure. It should be helpful to employees, managers, vendors and the Board of Supervisors. This document will evolve with experience, changes in county business objectives, and availability of new technology.

Goals
The county cannot operate without computer-based information systems. Basic county services such as justice, public protection, health, social services, public works, and general administrative services depend on these systems. Information systems are also a fundamental part of the county's administrative infrastructure. They must be planned, managed, and deployed with the same care and attention as are roads, buildings, and staff. 

The county will apply Information Technology to achieve the following goals 
  1. Improve the delivery of county services to our customers.
  2. Provide better service by improving internal county operations.
  3. Promote cooperation among county departments, other government agencies, and the private sector.
  4. Increase the efficiency and quality of work life of county employees.
  5. Increase information availability in order make more informed decisions.
Guiding Principles
The following statements describe the principles we will use in making investments in Information Technology. We believe these principles will help us best meet our stated goals. 

Our Information Technology Strategy is driven by and supports county and department service strategies and goals. A first step in new system design will be to consider the business needs of county departments, but any opportunity to re-engineer work processes should also be considered. Applications will be based on functions (such as justice, health and social service programs, finance and human resources) and will not be constrained by current organization lines and single department needs. 

Front-line, service delivery staff will have the tools to access all needed information and to be effective. Technology will be employed to support the county goal of having the "highest caliber employees" who "provide quality services to the community." 

Technology will be used to improve the effectiveness and productivity of county government. We will use technology to minimize organizational overhead and maximize resources devoted to direct customer service. Information, regardless of its location within the county, Bay Area, state, or nation will be universally available (subject to the need and right to know.) Information will be delivered for direct client services, for management analysis, and for business decisions. We will routinely evaluate opportunities for information to be shared by organizations to minimize the cost of collection and maintenance, and to maximize accuracy. 

We will make the best use of IT resources: money, staff, and equipment. IT resources will support cumulative, department, and county-wide objectives. This includes the best use of current equipment investments. Our procurement practices will encourage vendor competition and best efforts. System development, maintenance, operation, and project management practices will support successful investments over the life of IT applications. 

County computing will be based on industry standards that permit maximum sharing of hardware and software resources. This will enhance competition, provide alternative vendors, and protect investments in hardware, software, and training. Technology will support the sharing of information and systems among departments, and the integration of different products acquired at different times for different purposes. 

We will encourage trials of innovative service delivery, improved business processes, and the creative use of technology. Technology will expand public access to government by citizens and provide services on demand at the point of the business transaction. Proven off-the-shelf systems, production pilots, and other small scale trials will reduce project risks. These guiding principles lead to the following overall policy which will guide our management, deployment, and use of Information Technology in the county. 

Overall Information Technology Policy
County departments will individually manage the use of Information Technology in support of their mission and goals, and these goals and principles. The county collectively will manage the use of Information Technology to support and ensure county-wide planning and collaboration on systems for common services and functions. The county will build and maintain a secure common, standards-based, county-wide Information Technology infrastructure for collaboration between work groups. 

The following section describes more specific Information Technology policies and architectural concepts that will help us fulfill our goals, principles, and overall policy. 

Policies and Architecture
The goals and guiding principals in the previous section affirm the county's commitment to build an information infrastructure that provides universal access to tools, services, and information to serve our customers. Management of the county's Information Technology strategy will be on-going. The county must continuously progress toward its strategic goals even though the ideal results will not be immediate. 

We must understand the following key subjects to realize our goals: 

  1. Information Technology Leadership: Technology leadership should be driven by the Information Technology Steering Committee and its sub-committees, and carried out as a function of the Department of Information Technology and other county departments. This should include the development and continued evolution of an ongoing technology strategy and the cost-effective means for achieving this strategy. The county is in a position of needing to improve its day-to-day business functions through the use of technology, with diminishing resources. This will force county management to make difficult decisions about policy and business priorities in the cost and use of technology. Ongoing information about present and future technologies will be required to make these decisions.
  2. Common county-wide data communication and network services: A backbone is defined as the main information transmission path for the county's information. This should be a basic network service available to all County departments. The backbone is the foundation of a County information infrastructure that includes data, voice, and video traffic. Shared services, available and easily used by every County employee, are essential for staff collaboration and integrated client service to citizens.
  3. Data management: Data management is the capability to organize and access general information when and where it is needed throughout the County in a shared format. Data management reduces redundancy of labor and physical resources to capture and present information.
  4. Work group productivity tools: Tools should be available at desktops, which support individual and collective staff productivity, to increase the flow of information at the point where a given business transaction takes place.
  5. Staff training, development, and support: The County needs an organizational commitment to build information technology skills and competencies, and to provide in-depth problem solving assistance, so the value of what is spent on information technology is enhanced.
  6. Systems management: Projects, systems, and organizational practices should be developed through a System Development Life Cycle model which continues to enhance the value of technology throughout its intended life span. Application systems are staying in production for much longer periods of time than anticipated, which necessitates a requirement for greater adaptability and higher levels of integration.
  7. Innovation and technology transfer: Activities and practices which encourage the timely identification and cost-effective application of new technology, including research and development, should be proactively applied by all County departments through the leadership of the Department of Information Technology.
  8. Organizational roles and responsibilities: A clear definition of individual and collective responsibilities needs to be defined and understood by all participants in the County's information technology process in order to achieve the County's information technology goals and objectives. Each of these key subjects is covered in more detail on the following pages.
1. Information Technology Leadership
Information Technology leadership is the responsibility of the County's Department of Information Technology. It is important that County management and employees are exposed on an ongoing basis to new ideas, changes, and breakthroughs in technology. This can be accomplished in the following fashion: 
  • Workshops for the Board of Supervisors, Executive and Senior Management, which educate and provide exposure to the world of technology.
  • Ongoing education for all County employees through the Department of Information Technology, on current applications, software and hardware standards and tools, and emerging technologies.
  • Publication of a County-wide newsletter by the Department of Information Technology, which includes discussion of current technology topics, software use tips and hints, and information security education and updates.
2. Common County-wide Data Communication and Network Services
A shared, County-wide, communications infrastructure (Wide Area Network) must provide for department-managed information communication and common County-wide work group interconnections. The County will select and provide basic, common network services which provide for the secure interchange of information. These include electronic distribution of correspondence and information, protection of confidential and protected client information, and the ability for any authorized County worker to use any appropriate application in the County. 

County backbone network
The County will fund, maintain, and centrally manage a County-wide general purpose data communication backbone. Backbone services will be based on the concepts of:
  • Secure and safe communication of only that information which should be open to network access.
  • Peer-to-peer, open, common protocol, communications technology.
  • County funding of departmental connections to the backbone.
  • Secure connections to departments, and support of general purpose encryption of data packets as required. Capacity and performance to meet County and department needs. Standards for file servers, communications lines, redundant pathways and reliable power.
Departmental and work group "Dedicated" networks
Departments are responsible to build and maintain dedicated networks to meet their individual work group needs. However, as appropriate, operating departments will participate in and use the backbone for: 
  • Inter-departmental communication.
  • Intra-department communication when appropriate.
Gateway to networks and services
The backbone will provide shared, common gateway services to and from networks outside County government including: 
  • Internet and World Wide Web Connection.
  • Regional, state, city, and school networks.
  • "For fee" information services, with costs allocated to users.
  • Networks of authorized organizations, and other government entities which may need access to County services.
Mail
The County will fund, build and centrally manage an industry standard, common protocol, County-wide mail service. Mail is more than an electronic replication of simple typewritten messages. It may include a variety of electronic correspondence such as images, voice messages, formatted documents, electronic conferencing, meeting schedule requests, and exchange of data files. 
  • Departments' mail systems will be interconnected providing a free flow of basic mail packets.
  • Departments will maintain existing work group mail systems, and plan and fully participate in the County mail backbone as it is developed.
  • Departments without a mail system will be provided a common, basic mail service.
  • Services will also include a directory of mail participants, security of data, access to work station functions, logging. and performance management.
File transfer 
Common file transfer protocols and tools will emphasize ease of use and minimize operating differences between systems, while maintaining security for authorizing access. 

Remote operation
Remote operation tools will provide the capability for any authorized user, at a workstation anywhere in the County, to fully use any department's system in a secure manner. Directories of organizations and employee network addresses Centrally managed County-wide directories will support addressing and universal transmission of electronic correspondence and data. 

3. Data management
A consolidated County-wide perspective of multi-department data is needed. Individual departments need the ability to access other departments' data that is available for general distribution as allowable by law. County access will be based on data held and managed by departments for their operational purposes. 

Department data repositories
Departments are responsible for systems that support work group operations. Data will be stored and maintained in computer systems supporting work group operations. There are added (and potentially significant) costs of coordinating and providing County-wide access to work group data. The County will fund department equipment and software devoted to data access gateways. Departments are responsible for: 
  • Maintaining standards-based file servers, communications lines and reliable power.
  • Data collection, maintenance and accuracy. This is a product of normal department operations. Data definition, accessibility, and security, by use of industry standard ("SQL" based) data management technology.
  • Consideration of County-wide data access and governance practices must be included in department systems. Consideration of opportunities, particularly as new systems are developed, to share information between departments and to avoid redundant data management
4. Work Group Productivity Tools
General purpose workstation, work group, and application development tools must support department staff, the County-wide portability, and collaboration of staff and systems.

Preferred County-wide tools
The County will develop a list of preferred, general purpose workstation, work group, and application development tools which:
  • Support routine portability and collaboration of staff and systems.
  • Ensure easy and rapid exchange of data objects, such as formatted documents.
  • Lay the ground work for effective staff workstation training and support.
  • Recognize the individual, specialized needs of departments.
Specialized department tools
Departments:
  • Will select and implement specialized tools that serve individual professions and functions.
  • Are encouraged to demonstrate innovations of potential County-wide value that can add value to basic County-wide services at reasonable cost.
5. Staff Training, Development, and Support
County staff need readily available, in-depth, training and technical support to obtain the full benefits from the significant investment at each workstation. County-provided support The County will centrally provide staff training and technical support. Support will be limited to selected, preferred tools, and will take place at three levels:
  • Personal skills development for employees, even though it may not be immediately required on the job.
  • Competency development to build in depth on-the-job capability.
  • Consulting, technical support and problem resolution at the work site.
Department-based support and training departments are responsible for: Support of unique and specialized tools. Training staff in security responsibilities, based on the County's 1996 Security Memorandum of Understanding and "Employee/Contractor Responsibility Statement." Access to system facilities will not be permitted without this training. 

6. Systems Management
Information systems are a vital part of the County service delivery infrastructure. Realizing the full value from these major capital investments requires a basic set of project and system management practices and organization disciplines. 

County function based systems
Planning for new systems will involve all County programs that provide services in the functions addressed by the proposed system. 

Business and work process re-engineering
Departments are responsible to build the basic steps of business process redesign into the initial stages of system planning and development. The methodology will provide for an "early out" if process redesign is not feasible. Project proposal and measurable benefits The County will develop a project proposal guide line, including an emphasis on measurable improvements in services and costs.

Project Management
  • The County will develop a project management guideline which will include:
  • Accountability for completion within outcome measurements.
  • Senior department management sponsorship and continuing, fully involved, project commitment in partnership with the project managers.
  • Fully staffed systems project management with appropriate responsibility and authority. Encourage the use of flexible communications systems that include various technologies and that stress compatibility.
Procurement
The county has prepared procurement guidelines and a Countywide Technology Acquisition Contract, which include vendor and county responsibilities, and emphasize the county's Information Technology Strategy. These are available in the Department of General Services Purchasing Division and the Department of Information Technology.

System life-cycle management
  • Departments will identify the proposed phases of a system's development and deliverables for each phase. At the end of each development phase the following will be updated:
  • Project plan and budget Cost/benefit analysis Operation and maintenance plans
  • The County Information Technology Department has examples and models of the above elements.
  • Quality assurance Each department will include quality assurance reviews in its project plans, which will include a post implementation review that evaluates planned versus actual functional capabilities, measurable benefits, and documents innovations and lessons learned.
Planning
The County will update its technology strategy on an ongoing basis and each department will prepare a systems plan in January of each year. 

7. Innovation and Technology Transfer
The County must support the rapid and effective deployment of new technology for customer service and organization improvements. A key part of the County's technology strategy must be activities to increase understanding of opportunities and innovations. Organizational incentives that support development and transfer of successful applications include practical funding options and simplified project approval processes. 

Annual Technology Vision Conference
The Department of Information Technology, with the participation of the ITSC, will organize and host an annual technology vision conference for County Department Heads. This conference will be aimed at introducing new technologies and applications at the executive level of the County. The Department of Information Technology will also work with County departments and industry to put on an annual technology fair, aimed at demonstrating technical aspects of new technologies and applications among all County departments. 

Post implementation "Open House"
Departments will publicize and host an open house demonstrating features, benefits, and lessons learned from a completed systems development effort. Technology resource library The Information Technology Department will maintain an open reference library of product and system management literature for use by County systems staff. Funding incentives The County will develop a budget policy which creates incentives to fund high payoff systems development, and committed to obtaining the current, most reliable, and proven technology available at the time of purchase. Simplified project review and approval The project proposal and decision process will support timely and creative initiatives. Each year the process will be evaluated with recent project managers to ensure that the County's objectives for innovation and rapid, quality results are achieved. 

8. Roles and Responsibilities
This strategy depends on several key organizations and constituencies. Board of Supervisors Approve the County's Information Technology Strategy as approved and presented by the Information Technology Steering Committee. Approve systems and application expenditures related to the County's strategic direction based on availability of funding. 

Information Technology Steering Committee (ITSC) Promote the use of Information Technology Lead IT development Periodically review IT Strategy in light of changing technology, requirements, and available funding. Recommend to the Board specific projects and investments. Establish and recommend to the County Administrator and Board of Supervisors IT priorities consistent with County business priorities. Recommend to the County Administrator and Board of Supervisors policies consistent with County business priorities.

County Administrator/Department of Information Technology
  • Organize and chair the Information Technology Steering Committee
  • Introduce and recommend new technologies to the Information Technology Steering Committee and County Departments
  • Seek out and encourage public/private partnerships that utilize innovative technologies. Recommend County IT Strategy to the Board of Supervisors.
  • Recommend related departmental systems plans to the Board of Supervisors.
  • Carry out the County's Information Technology strategy under the leadership of the Information Technology Steering Committee.
County-Wide LAN/WAN Committee
  • Provide for County-Wide input into County's technology direction and wide area infrastructure design.
  • Provide a forum for technology peer exchange.
  • Assist the ITSC in reviewing Departmental Security Plans and Departmental Disaster Recovery Plans as required by the County's Security Policy.
County departments
  • Define departmental needs and manage the use of departmental IT.
  • Use IT to serve departmental customers and the public.
  • Make IT project proposals to the management.
County employees
  • Understand and effectively use provided IT tools.
  • Use training and support to provide high quality County services.
  • Identify opportunities to apply technology and business process improvements.
  • Assist the ITSC and County in the evaluation of services and systems.
Clients and customers
  • Take full advantage of available County services and technology
  • Help evaluate County services and support systems.
Implementation of the Strategy
Migration of the County to the policies and architecture described above will occur in stages. All new and re-engineered systems will adapt to the County backbone standards. The County will set priorities for investments in County-wide capabilities. Investments and adaptation of existing systems will be planned on a case-by-case basis. The rate of implementation of County-wide infrastructure capabilities in each department will include consideration of existing County investments in department computing technology and the need for rapid, full, County-wide participation. 

Criteria for IT Investment Decisions
The criteria for staffing and funding projects will reflect the Guiding Principles. It is vital that funding and approval be perceived by all to be open, equitable, and rational. County government's resources are limited, and we have the responsibility to make the best use of the money, staff, and equipment available. To make appropriate decisions on allocating these resources, including investments in Information Technology, decision-makers should have a clear understanding of what we can expect to receive for any investment.
The County can best make investment decisions when the choices among priorities are quantified. For example, it is more helpful to know that an imaging system will reduce processing time for a customer's request by 30 minutes than to know that it will simply "save processing time." Thus, project managers should quantify the expectations for investments as much as possible. We also recognize that some benefits (and costs), such as improved employee satisfaction, are difficult to quantify. Project managers should describe such benefits and costs qualitatively, and be able to provide documentation.

On-Going IT Strategy Development and Maintenance
Maintaining our IT Strategy and the supporting architecture is a continuing responsibility. County business changes, the pace of technical change, and the results of past projects will all present a series of challenges and opportunities. We must develop organizational habits and traditions which make IT strategic planning a regular and fully participative part of executive management responsibilities.