For almost a decade, the California Department of Technology (CDT) and Department of General Services (DGS) have hosted an annual forum – usually in December – to provide the vendor community with information on how their companies can partner with the state on technology and other projects.

Needless to say, it has become a very popular event – now held biannually – for vendors and the public seeking to determine specifics on California’s multi-billion dollar IT budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

But for vendors and the public who came expecting clarity on IT spending at the latest forum event on Dec. 15, 2022, they got at best a cloudy version of what’s coming over the next year.

Due to its size, complexity, decentralization and just plain old accounting legerdemain, California’s IT budget and spending has always presented “a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma,” to borrow a phrase from Winston Churchill, the perspicacious British prime minister describing Russia during World War II.

It’s for this reason that the state’s IT vendor community – and most others outside of the select arbiters of the state’s finances – actually understand so little about the state’s proposed IT initiatives over the next fiscal year which begins July 1, 2023.

That shortcoming is ironic given that the Federal government is able to produce an IT Dashboard each year breaking down its more $120 billion IT spending for the coming fiscal year, by agency and by project. But California has no such offering. Consequently, events like the vendor forum are an important resource as the state IT vendor community attempts to divine the tea leaves surrounding new state IT initiatives.

It’s even more shameful for the state considering the fact that it has spent almost $1 billion over the last 17 years, according to CDT’s own IT Project Tracking system, for its still unfinished Financial Information System for California (FI$CAL). That system, the state legislature was promised, would alleviate this IT budget and spending problem, along with many other reforms. Well, what do you expect for a billion dollars…?

Notwithstanding the misgivings surrounding the enduring mystery of specific state IT project budgets, nevertheless the Vendor Forum did have some helpful guidance for vendors on project plans for 2023, which you can read all about here.

In less than a week, Governor Newsom will announce the state’s preliminary FY2023-24 state budget that agencies have been preparing since last summer. After that, the legislature and governor will start some horse-trading, anticipating an approved statewide FY budget signed by the governor by July 1, 2023.

During the vendor forum’s Q&A session, I ask the CDT representatives, “The fiscal year budget will be released by the governor in a few weeks. Will CDT provide a listing of all new IT spending in the budget by department and my project?”

“This is coming from my past job,” answered the CDT Deputy CIO. “In the past we have not released actual approved projects in a summary fashion, but all of the budget related items that relate to IT spending or IT project spending are on the Department of Finance’s website. The moment that the new budget is released, you could look for clues as to what IT projects may receive funding in the governor’s budget by looking at the statewide IT project tracking from the CDC website.”

I have no doubt that a good vendor detective will be able to derive some clues to state IT spending that way, but be aware that totals for projects tracked versus projects approved and underway may be far apart.

For instance, there are 30 IT projects in CDT’s Project Tracking system.

By comparison, when I was California’s first State CIO in the late 1990s we estimated there were approximately 100-150 new agency proposed projects each fiscal year, and over 500 active multiyear projects. How many is the current tracking system missing?  Welcome to the riddle.

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John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn
John Thomas Flynn serves as a senior advisor for government programs at MeriTalk. He was the first CIO for the both the State of California and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and was president of NASCIO.