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Managing Microcomputers in State and Local Government Fred Dugger* State and local governments, like private sector companies, face a new and formidable challenge how to harness the technol- ogy of powerful, inexpensive microcomputers to improve the or- ganization's productivity. The computing power and Tow cost of these crevices are well known. What is not as well known is how to manage their prudent use. We must initially identify areas where productivity might be improver! by using micros. Then we must acIdress issues of product selection, procurement procedures, software acquisition and clevelopment, communications network integration, education, and maintenance. We must determine how microcomputer technology can enhance rather than confuse our information generating systems. We must distribute comput- ing power throughout our organizations while maintaining the necessary information flow to top management. And we must ac- complish this in an environment so dynamic that tomorrow's product announcements may make yesterciay's requests for bids obsolete. This dynamic environment extends to users and potential users as well. It seems that almost everyone has a strong, sometimes *Fred Dugger is director of the Department of Data Processing, State of Nevada (Carson City). 115

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116 MANAGING MICROCOMPUTERS highly emotional opinion about micros and personal computers. People who own them often consoler them a friend; their children almost always do. These people believe that micros have a definite place in their own office environment. They are probably right. Other people with little or no direct contact with micros are still intrigued. The merlin have brought home the fact that ours is a computerized society; our children have frequent access to com- puters at school; Dick Cavett, Charlie Chaplin, ant! Captain Kirk have shown us how we can generate sophisticates! graphics for our businesses with a single keystroke. And with the plummeting price of hardware how can we afforc} not to install one? There is surely a sales rep at the other end of the telephone who can solve all our problems. Then there are the professionals in traclitional ciata processing organizations who have sweated blood for so many years develop- ing, installing, and maintaining enormous, highly sophisticated sys- tems. These systems perform large-scale accounting operations, transfer minions of doDars daily around the country, and provide countless other services in government and the private sector. Wild these organizations lose the power they have acquired, the talent they have gathered? If they no longer control computer acquisitions, wiR the chaos of the early days return in the form of unmaintainable systems; programs written by authors who have Tong vanished, un- structured, unplanned systems; communications incompatibilities; a complete lack of documentation? Finally, there is the largest group of all, the uneasy white-colIar workers who believe they will have to embrace this new and strange technology, master it instantly, and improve procluctiv- ity measurably while continuing to cope with everything they are now barely able to accomplish. These people know that they will soon have to alter fundamentally and permanently the way in which they accomplish their ciay-to-ciay tasks. They know that change means stress. Ant! they are worried. So what do we do? Do we even have a choice? Can we opt to refuse the new technology, to continue with methods that now appear to be at the peak of efficiency? The answer is no. We have no choice on whether micros will be in our organizations. We do have a choice as to how they will be controlled, acquired, sup- ported and, in general, put to productive use. But how do we measure productive use? The answer is eco- nomics, pure and simple. Unfortunately, in all too many cases the

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STA TO AND LOCAL GO VERNMENT 117 mystique of computers has successfully evaded cost-benefit anal- yses and return on investment calculations. There is no reason for this. Computers are tools, and data processing centers are ma- chine shops. The same economics apply. Data processing "ex- perts" may attempt the standard technique of claiming inclepen- dence from accountability due to technical complexity, but this is no excuse. As with every other capital and operating cost, line managers must be responsible for the costs associated with imple- mentation and use of micros. It is only fair, however, to make sure that managers understand the true costs of microcomputers. Usually, the major cost of a microcomputer lies in the cost of the people who program ant! operate it. It is this consumption of personnel resource that is almost always underestimated, particularly if it involves any original programming. Functions that have been performed in traditional data processing applications are often completely ig- nored by people acquiring new microcomputers. As a result, those who attempt to write programs without systems planning, analy- sis, design, and data definition are doomed! to commit the clisas- trous errors that plagued the early data processing industry. One can only hope these disasters will be on a smaller scale. The economics, then, are simple: equipment is cheap, people are expensive. Minimize people requirements. Eliminate program- ming by buying off-the-shelf software. Minimize training time by providing a helpful support staff. Standardize vendors, both hardware and software, for common applications. Provide cen- tralized maintenance wherever possible. Provide an internal qual- ified consultant staff to answer the myriad questions on common micros and associated software that will arise from first-time users. In short, make micros easy to use. If they are easy to use they require less staff time, and that means less money. What have state and local governments clone to facilitate the use of microcomputers? The answer is many things. States' re- sponses to the microcomputer onslaught have been as varied as their existing data processing organizational structures. Those with highly centralized data processing authorities and procure- ment agencies quickly developed new policies and procedures to cover micros. Authorization procedures tendec} to stress proof of beneficial use, as well as sources of funding and cost-benefit anal- yses. Those organizations that Greatly had approval authority

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118 MANAGING AIICROCOMPUTERS for data processing applications and equipment also exercised ap- proval authority for microcomputers. Standardized forms for re- questing micros have been implemented in many organizations. In a similar fashion, centralized purchasing authorities developed qualified vendor lists, negotiated volume discount agreements, and published procedures to be used to request microcomputer equipment. Some government agencies have modified their organizational structure to accommodate new demands. The state of Kentucky has created a new unit within its systems services branch called the Microcomputer Support Unit (MSUl. This unit has been di- rected to establish policies concerning the evaluation and use of microcomputers by Kentucky state government, and to provide technical, financial, contractual, and management support for these policies. The unit has developed forms for mini-microcom- puter needs assessments and cost-benefit analyses. These new forms, along with preexisting ones, provide a way to determine the suitability of a proposed microcomputer installation. The MSU also coordinates all activity with microcomputer vendors on behalf of the state; initiates all hardware and software pur- chases; and registers all software, whether developed in-house or purchased. Although the unit does not itself provide software de- velopment services, the MSU will coordinate with the informa- tion systems department to provide that service if custom soft- ware is needed. The Kentucky Microcomputer Support Unit has the additional responsibility of developing and implementing standards and guidelines for hardware and software acquisition. The MSU has established a recommended list of software packages, specific to the applications desired, and has set standard communications protocols for micros that communicate with mainframe com- puters. The unit is developing guidelines to make installation and operation of microcomputers easier, including suggestions on backup and recovery procedures. The MSU is also developing an internal "computer store." This store will have an inventory of approved microcomputers, peripheral devices, and software in common use. This equipment may be borrowed by state agencies for short-term use and is available for demonstrations and tests. The store is expected to facilitate comparisons of various micros and software packages, and prospective purchasers will be able to solicit advice from objective, rather than sales-oriented, staff. Fi

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STATE AND LOCAL GOVERIV~NT 119 nally, the MSU will serve as a clearinghouse for all application programs, provide advice on career training for microcomputer users, run a hotline service for questions, and coordinate all equip- ment maintenance ant! service. Clearly, Kentucky is taking an approach that will facilitate se- lection, use, and maintenance of microcomputers while maintain- ing procurement and authorization controls and procedures. The state's investment in staffing the MSU will be recovered many times over in the time savings of the personnel supported. The creation of this organizational structure reflects management's commitment to the effective use of microcomputers. The state of California has long been noted for its centralized control over acquisition of ciata processing equipment and pro- curement procedures. California has formulated a central policy for microcomputer acquisition as well, but has left procurement authority for such equipment with the various data processing entities throughout the state. Several of these departments have developed their own guidelines for selecting microcomputers. The Health and Welfare Department has implemented the computer store concept for its internal use. Members of this department may make an appointment to visit the store to discuss their com- puting requirements with data processing staff. On display and available for trial use are microcomputers that are compatible with department mainframes. Quantity discount arrangements have been made with various vendors through the California cen- tral purchasing authority. The computer store has been so popu- lar that it has had to restrict access to only its own department staff. Other departments are watching this approach and are con- sidering stores of their own. California is continuing to develop centralized policies for other aspects of microcomputer use, and is currently investigating ways of providing equipment mainte- nance. The state does not now have a centralized education capa- bility for microcomputer users and is also quite concerned about mainframe compatibility. Other governments have implemented other methocis of con- trol. The state of Illinois reviews each request for microcomputer acquisition against the master ciata processing plan for the re- questing agency. If the microcomputer performs a service that supports the plan, and if it is economically beneficial, it receives approval. If the acquisition floes not support the plan, the pur- chase is either disapprover! or the plan is changed and subsequent

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120 MANAGING MICROCOMPUTERS approval is sought. Dade County, Florida, has placed its micro- computer support function within the data processing organiza- tions in its Information Center. The Information Center has al- reacly been providing support for user-friendly software on large mainframes, attempting to bring hands-on computer power di- rectly to analytical and managerial personnel without requiring traditional computer programming. The information center con- cept has achiever! wiclespread success. Dacle County believes that the user orientation of the Information Center staff will help es- tablish correct use of microcomputers. The center also provides an excellent opportunity to compare directly the capabilities of applications software running on large mainframes and on per- sonal computers. The state of Alaska is pursuing a policy that attempts to avoid duplication of mainframe functions on microcomputers. The state recognizes that there are substantial differences in information systems requirements, and that much time ant! effort can be wasted trying to shoehorn a large application into a small com- puter in the name of efficiency. Like Kentucky, Alaska is stan- clarclizing off-the-shelf software packages for specific applica- tions, thereby improving the mobility of experienced staff and reducing training requirements. The state has also developed its own training courses ant! materials. In one rather innovative pro- gram Alaska is using prelaw students to assist in developing ap- plications programs to support legislative functions. The stu- dents receive university credit for their work. Several other states have taken less comprehensive ap- proaches. These are understandable if we keep in mind that, in general, state governments more closely resemble a collection of independent companies, each with a unique set of goals, rather than a single large company with an overall profit objective. In other worsts, providing drivers' licenses has little to do with li- censing real estate brokers, except that both must be accom- plishec! at the lowest cost to the taxpayer ant! with the highest quality of service. As a result of the disparate functions of state agencies, decisions about acquisition and use of microcomputers are frequently left to the individual agency. Since most agencies do not have the resources to provide specialized internal consult- ing for microcomputers, those that want to take advantage of the new technology must fenc} for themselves. This has sometimes led to a proliferation of microcomputer vendors, software products,

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STA TE AND LOCAL GO VERMONT 121 and limited communications capability. It has also consumed a great clear of personnel resource, as people who are unfamiliar with microcomputers visit computer stores and attend seminars and expositions to increase their technical knowledge. Perhaps the worst consequence is the frustration and disillusionment of managers who must struggle with the consequences of buying the wrong computer for a task or must use novice programmers to try to build customized software. The state of Washington's Employment Security Department (ESD) offers a good example of a department-level approach to microcomputers. E SD has developed a microcomputer-based sys- tem to support its Job Placement Training Act (]PTA) activities. This application involves a local area networking system that al- lows cross-communication between sites and communication to the ESD mainframe. Insofar as local area networking is much talked about but little understood these days, several other states are watching the developments in Washington with great inter- est. Some of these states, inclucling Nevada, have entered into agreements with Washington to allow transfer of the contractor- developed software to their own J PTA programs. Many interest- ing issues are surfacing cluring these transfers, and it appears that the operation of the Washington system and the transfers to other states will provide excellent learning opportunities. In Nevada current planning strategy distinguishes between backbone systems, which are information systems considered vi- tal to the effective operation of an organization, and decision sup- port systems, which provide digester! information to manage- ment and program personnel. Examples of backbone systems include payroll, corporation licensing, gaming tax and license fee collection, and motor vehicle registration. Decision support sys- tems include caseload projections, revenue projections, and tax impact analysis. Professional data processing personnel will con- tinue to develop, implement, ant! maintain the state's backbone systems, thereby utilizing the most expensive resource, people, to insure the quality of the most valuable asset, timely and accurate fiats. The new technologies of the improved, user-friendly soft- ware products and microcomputers, functioning as professional workstations, will provide direct computing power to managers and analysts. State governments as a group, functioning through the Na- tional Association of State Information Systems (NASISl, have

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122 MANAGING MICROCOMPUTERS recognized the magnitude of the management problem they face. They have accepted as a primary responsibility the clevelopment of policies, procedures, and techniques to make the best use of the new microcomputer technology. They have also recognized that all states have similar, if not identical, problems. In an effort to share ideas and resources and to cooperate in solving common problems, NASIS has established an Information Clearinghouse. This clearinghouse will function as a common repository for states' policies, procedures, plans, productivity techniques, and anything else that might help achieve excellence in information systems services. Although few documents are currently indexed and stored, the Research and Education Committee of NASIS has placed a major emphasis on acquiring and indexing quality documents from the states. NASIS wishes to extend the avail- ability of these documents beyond its membership to other gov- ernmental entities and to the private sector. Mechanisms are now being developed to allow distribution of an index of available doc- uments, as well as the documents themselves. It is too soon to evaluate the approaches of various state and local governments to managing microcomputers within their or- ganizations. Based on some of their early experiences, however, it is possible to make some recommendations about the use of mi- crocomputers by government and private sector organizations: Recognize that microcomputers are becoming an increas- ingly important toot for your professional staff. Micros are here to stay. Provide management support for a cohesive microcomputer policy in your organization. Establish an organizational unit that understands micro- computers and can provide quality advice for internal manage- ment. Such a unit can cut through marketing claims ant! provide realistic assessments of capabilities. Use your established expertise in systems engineering. An organization's data processing professionals can greatly facili- tate an integrated systems approach using the new low-cost hard- ware. Monitor early microcomputer installations closely. Capital- ize on the successes and learn from the failures. Provide for and insist on education for your management

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STA TO AND LOCAL GO VERNMENT 123 staff. They don't have to understancI how computers work, but they must unclerstand their capabilities and limitations. Do not expect microcomputers to replace the large informa- tion systems currently in place on mainframes. Properly man- agect, micros can provide valuable local support functions while enhancing the quality and quantity of the corporate database. Improperly managed, micros can diffuse the database and con- fuse the accuracy of data. Although the challenge of managing the microcomputer inva- sion appears large, the opportunities that micros provide are also enormous. The power ant! flexibility they bring will permit quan- tum leaps in the provision of quality information. These thinking robots are amplifying the analytical power our organizations possess at a cost undreamed of a clecacle ago. As we learn how to harness this new technology we will be able to use its powerful capabilities to achieve our goals better, faster, and more eco- nomically.