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Transcript

State Government IT

Simone Marstiller
Florida Chief Information Officer
Friday, October 22, 2004; 11:00 AM

Simone Marstiller, Florida's chief information officer, was online to answer your questions about the challenges facing her office and how state technology offices assist during emergencies. The state of Florida, which was recently hit by a series of devastating hurricanes, has a number of technology initiatives underway. Filter columnist Cynthia L. Webb moderated the discussion.

A transcript follows.

Simone Marstiller, Florida Chief Information Officer (State of Florida)


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Before her post as CIO, Marstiller served as deputy chief of staff for Gov. Jeb Bush. From Oct. 2002 to June 2003, she served as general counsel for the state Department of Management Services and worked as the interim secretary of the department. Marstiller was also assistant general counsel to the governor and was chief appellate counsel for the Agency of Health Care Administration. Before her career as an attorney, Marstiller worked in advertising sales for the publishing industry.

Editor's Note: Washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Live Online discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions.

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Cynthia L. Webb: Welcome! Thanks for joining me to talk with Florida's CIO. Let's get started with our chat with Simone Marstiller.

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Cynthia L. Webb: Hi Simone. Thanks for coming online today to talk about your job as Florida's chief information officer and various technology issues facing your state. The role of the CIO at the state level has been expanding, particularly as technology continues to have a greater impact overall. Can you give a primer of what IT decisions your office oversees and your day-to-day duties?

Simone Marstiller: Thanks for inviting me to participate in this web chat. Florida's State Technology Office has many responsibilities. Primarily, the STO guides, and sometimes implements, the state's use of information technology and its management of IT resources. STO is responsible for setting state govt. standards, policies and procedures for using IT. STO also guides IT strategy for the state and makes recommendations in that regard to the Governor and Legislature. It's hard to summarize my daily routine. Not only do I manage my staff of approximately 200, but I liaise virtually daily with state agencies, vendors/contractors, legislators and their staff, and of course, the Governor's office. And then, there's the occasional interview (or web chat).

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Cynthia L. Webb: Florida recently started a new e-mail alert service for residents. What type of information does this service disseminate and are there plans to expand this service?

Simone Marstiller: Yes, we announced this service earlier this month. This service will allow citizens and businesses to have a direct connection to their government. It allows state government to provide critical information to individuals across the state in a timely fashion.

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Washington, D.C.: Is your office involved in IT security for the elections, in terms of any electronic-voting machines used or the software that compiles the results? Can you reassure Americans about the security of the election in a state that could decide the next president, not to mention a key Senate seat?

Simone Marstiller: The elections process in Florida is handled by the Department of State and each county's Supervisor of Elections. The State Technology Office has no role in that process.

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Cynthia L. Webb: Tom Jarrett, the CIO of Delaware was online with us for a chat in recent weeks. He's also the president of NASCIO, the organization representing state CIOs. He mentioned privacy and security as top issues. Are these items high on your list as well and if so, how are you addressing them?

Simone Marstiller: Those are 2 important issues for Florida as well, as I'm sure they are for every state. Within the STO, we have an Office of Information Security that works with all state agencies to ensure we're all following the same information security standards. The OIS also works closely with agencies involved in homeland security (for example the Florida Dept of Law Enforcement) to make sure we're doing all we can from an information security perspective. On the privacy side, the STO has a privacy officer who, again, works with the state agencies to ensure standards are in place and are being adhered to. STO also guides the state's HIPAA compliance efforts.

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Cynthia L. Webb: Here is a link to the chat with Tom Jarrett.

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Washington, D.C.: Florida is one of those states that seems to get more than its fair share of disasters, and next year could be worse. Does your office prepare for incidents with quick-response teams and stockpiles of IT hardware, or is your budget not set up for that sort of thing?

Simone Marstiller: Florida is one of the country's leaders in disaster preparedness. Here in Tallahassee is located the State Emergency Operations Center which coordinates the state's response in times of disaster. STO's role is to facilitate and coordinate communications on all levels--from law enforcement to reestablishing land line service to citizens. We don't stockpile IT hardware. But, our business partners are at the ready (as they were during the hurricanes) to provide us whatever we need when we need it. Cell phones, laptops, everything.

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Cynthia L. Webb: Readers: For reference, here is a link to the home page for Florida's CIO and technology office: http://sto.myflorida.com/cio/ and a link for NASCIO's site: www.nascio.org

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Cynthia L. Webb: Can you provide a few anecdotes of how your office helped with disaster relief following the string of devastating hurricanes that recently hit Florida?

Simone Marstiller: The STO team worked round the clock for weeks as hurricane after hurricane hit Florida. We worked with all the relevant telecommunication companies to get mobile cellular and satellite units to the hard hit areas. We worked to ensure the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System remained functioning throughout--which it did. We got satellite phones into the hands of first responders. My team is awesome!

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Vienna, Va.: Hi Simone,

Can you talk about the funding challenges for a state CIO in an environment where everything else (education, tax policy, etc) takes priority? I've got to imagine it's even harder in Florida after a few hurricanes tear through the state.

Simone Marstiller: Florida is a resilient state, and it will be stronger than ever, notwithstanding what we've just been through. You're right, funding is always an issue. But the key to funding IT for the state is being able to demonstrate that any proposed solution is cost effective, increases productivity, and improves the way we serve the state's citizens. If you can't demonstrate that, you shouldn't be funded.

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Cynthia L. Webb: For interested readers, you can get more details on Florida's new e-mail alert service at the www.myflorida.com home page and then there's a spot to subscribe to "MyFlorida.com e-News and Alerts."

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Washington, D.C.: What is going on with Florida's plans to upgrade software and hardware? Why did you cancel the contract with BearingPoint and Accenture?

Cynthia L. Webb: This reader bring up a good question and is referring to the cancellation of a $170 million IT contract with the two companies.

Simone Marstiller: As you've probably read or heard, earlier this summer the STO received a report from the state's Auditor General finding, in sum, that the procurement process resulting in those contracts was flawed, and that the contracts did not provide the best value for the state. As the new CIO coming in, I did my own review which raised concerns that indeed, the procurement process may not have been fair. It's important to Governor Bush that state procurements be fair, transparent and competitive. In order to accomplish that, I made the decision to terminate the contracts and reprocure the services. It'll be a challenge, but it'll be done right.

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Jacksonville, Fla.: Can you tell us more about the data fusion group's efforts to improve information sharing among Florida's law enforcement regions? How does that tie in with UCF's data sharing consortium? Is it responsible to invest in R&D to build technologies that already exist off the shelf?

Simone Marstiller: I'm not familiar with those efforts.

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Washington, D.C.: Proportionately, it seems like Florida is getting more funding than most states to support homeland security and law enforcement initiatives. Do you believe that money is being well spent, and can you cite examples?

Simone Marstiller: I can only speak to STO projects funded by those dollars. We've done IT security risk assessments of the state agencies. And we're preparing to implement a cyber center to enable us to be much more proactive in monitoring the state network.

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Mayville, N.D.: Do you have any hobbies?

Simone Marstiller: Reading, working out (when I can). That's about all I have time for these days.

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Jackson, Wyo.: Simone,

I heard in another interview that you are terrified of lighting. Did that inhibit your abilities during the recent hurricanes?

Simone Marstiller: No. Luckily we didn't get the ferocious storms here in Tallahassee.

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Torrington, Ct.: The private sector has long embraced "decision support" systems to deliver real-time insight into vast transaction data stores to aid in understanding results, setting policy, and responding to changing conditions in a timely manner. These needs seem equally as important, if not more so, in the public sector. Does Florida employ this technology or have active plans to do so?

Simone Marstiller: Right now, Florida's Dept of Financial Services is in the process of upgrading the state's accounting and cash management system. When done, it should enable the state's strategic decision makers to access data at a level of detail and more quickly than we've been able to in the past.

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Cynthia L. Webb: We have 30 minutes left in our discussion with Simone. Readers, thanks for your participation so far.

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Virginia: During the hurricanes, I was pretty surprised by the local online news papers being able to give up to date information and coverage of what was happening in Pensacola (http://www.pensacolanewsjournal.com). I was wondering if the state ever intervenes with news organizations during disaster relief efforts to get the latest information and emergency information out to the public.

Simone Marstiller: Absolutely! Within our State Emergency Operations Center is a public information group that does a tremendous job getting info out and working with the media outlets.

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Jacksonville, Fla.: Do you think the problems the MyFlorida Alliance had will make states more reluctant to be innovative in the way contracts are structured?

Cynthia L. Webb: For readers not familiar with this alliance, can you explain more to clarify? Thanks!

Simone Marstiller: For folks unfamiliar with MyFlorida Alliance -- the state entered into contracts with Accenture and BearingPoint, forming a public-private alliance, to provide IT services to the state agencies and other governmental entities and to better enable the state to upgrade its systems and other IT resources. Other states shouldn't be reluctant to be innovative in IT contracting. Florida certainly won't be. But, any such contracts must ensure that taxpayer dollars are being spent judiciously. That's true for Florida and every other state.

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Tallahassee, Fla.: Is the STO continuing down the path of consolidation of IT purchasing decisions that were begun when Roy Cales was the CIO?

Simone Marstiller: Where it makes good business sense to do so.

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Cincinnati, Ohio: What would be a good starting position for a person wanting to become a CIO (ie: consultant, programmer, etc.)?

Cynthia L. Webb: A follow-up: Simone, your background is in law and you have worked extensively with Gov. Jeb Bush's administration, including as his deputy chief of until June 2003. How did you get interested in technology issues?

Simone Marstiller: The trend today appears to be moving away from CIOs who are strictly techies. CIOs these days are more business oriented. So, while some technical knowledge is good, having a business and management background would be helpful, as well. Now, I'm a lawyer, but my undergraduate education was in business. I've always been what I call a "closet techie." So, though my professional background isn't in IT, I do enjoy these issues. My legal background has helped me deal with contracting issues, and I understand the legal framework within which Florida's agencies must operate.

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Tallahassee, Fla.: Has your office been involved in the controversial MATRIX project? If so, how?

Simone Marstiller: Not to my knowledge.

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Moscow, Russia: Can the government structure be made more efficient by implementing the newest information technologies and what's the role of government in supporting the tech industry?

Simone Marstiller: It's not as simple as investing in the newest technologies. Whether in government or the private sector, to make the most of an IT investment, you first have to start with the particular business process. Once upon a time, IT just automated everything, but the processes were the same. That's not the level of efficiency we need now. So, a business process may need to be reengineered first, then you look for an IT solution that will enhance the reengineering and increase efficiency.

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Cynthia L. Webb: We have a number of additional questions about the MyFlorida Alliance deal. What are Florida's plans going forward to privatize the state data center, since in the past your office has talked about the need to privatize certain functions to save money? Will the project be put up for bid again for the private sector?

Simone Marstiller: We're in the process of putting together the business case to determine what the alternatives are and which one makes the most business sense. A new procurement -- if that's what the business case indicates is the best course of action -- would occur before year's end. Outsourcing, if done right, can and does increase efficiency and lower costs.

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Washington, D.C.: What's it like to be a woman in a male-dominated profession? What lessons can you offer others in your field?

Simone Marstiller: It doesn't really affect the way I do what I do. I just try to do my best, treat everyone the same. And, if I have to remind a male colleague that I'm his equal -- I do!

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Cynthia L. Webb: In addition to looking to the private sector to help the state with certain IT functions, does Florida use any open-source software or is your office considering it more as an option now? There has been a big push my government agencies in the U.S. and abroad to integrate open source software as a cheaper alternative to Microsoft and other proprietary offerings.

Simone Marstiller: We currently employ some, and it's currently a topic I and the state agency CIOs are discussing. We see that open source is becoming more viable, and that as a state, we need to develop some standards for using open source. We're still early in that process, though.

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Cynthia L. Webb: Simone is staying online with us for a few minutes past the hour so she can get to more of your questions.

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Arlington, Va.: What are some of the specific challenges you face in rolling out systems designed to interact with state residents - many of whom are elderly?

Simone Marstiller: We do our utmost to ensure our systems are accessible to all Floridians. Where vendors are doing the implementing, we require them to implement systems that are ADA compliant, etc.

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Herndon, Va.: I know FEMA send representatives to disaster areas and some of them are responsible for purchasing services and supplies as part of their duties. These FEMA representatives arrive armed with laptop computers and a commercial-off-the shelf (COTS) automated acquisition management system that has been licensed to FEMA. Do the employees from State of Florida's purchasing organizations have a similar capability?

Simone Marstiller: Our procurement system is now virtually electronic. Called MyFloridaMarketPlace, the whole purchase from requisition to payment is online.

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Cynthia L. Webb: Here is a link to Florida's ADA Working Group home page: http://www.abilityforum.com/

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Arlington, Va.: Studies show that human error is responsible for over 60% of IT security breaches and that better training and preparation are enabling organizations to limit their impact on operations. What is the state of Florida doing to better prepare state employees for these security threats?

Simone Marstiller: The STO has been providing state agencies with security training (things like ethical hacking) over the last year, or so. It's been very well received. The agencies love it.

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Cynthia L. Webb: What are the biggest challenges for your office and for other state CIOs as 2005 approaches?

Simone Marstiller: Good question. What I want accomplish in the coming year is to, of course, put our contracting efforts on the right footing. More than that, though, I want to focus more on enterprise IT strategy and policy. I think the challenges for state CIOs overall will continue to include improving security, demonstrating value, and finding funding.

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Cynthia L. Webb: Here is the complete link for Florida's online procurement system: http://dms.myflorida.com/dms/purchasing/myfloridamarketplace.

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Cynthia L. Webb: Thanks for answering so many questions today and taking the time to discuss such a wide range of topics. Readers, we are out of time today for more questions. Thanks for a great discussion and your participation. Simone, we hope you can join us online in the future to update us on progress on technology issues and projects in Florida.

Simone Marstiller: It's been fun and I'm glad to have been invited. I wish I could have stayed on longer and answered more questions. And, yes, I'd be open to a second engagement.

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Cynthia L. Webb: Thanks again for participating in today's chat. Have a great day everyone!

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