Legislative Effectiveness Committee

Fall Forum
Phoenix, Arizona
December 9-10, 2010

 Meeting Session

Using Technology in the Chamber and Capitol

Overview and Faculty

This session featured states that have recently brought new legislative IT systems into practice.  Presenters provided tips on how to sort through the options and make the wisest and most fiscally prudent decisions.

Moderator:  Bruce Feustel, Senior Fellow,  NCSL, Colorado

Presenters:  David Larson, Director, Legislative Computer Services, Kansas

Russell Humphrey, Senate Chief Clerk, Tennessee

Tara Perkinson, Deputy Clerk, Senate, Virginia


Bruce Feustel began the session by describing major legislative information technology (IT) projects as high risk, high reward situations. Legislative decision-makers have a lot to consider in the planning and implementation of these projects. He urged the panelists to provide advice on when you know that a legislative IT system must be changed, what planning process is used, how do you test and implement the change, how do legislators and staff work together on the change and what were the lessons learned.

Dave Larson described the role of the IT director as one of constant evaluation and assessment of risk of the IT system. In Kansas they have a five-year plan that is continuously updated and includes both objectives and values. When they decide to make a major change, they have a certified project manager in charge. The development of requirements takes some time, with an assessment of whether there is a product that will work to meet the legislature’s needs. The project manager is determining how much customization will be necessary, deciding what needs to be in the contracts with vendors, and planning for design, development, testing and implementation. Working with vendors requires the manager to make detailed assessments of skills and costs. When the vendor relationship is created extensive contact lists, procedures and acceptance criteria are established. Dave described creating a play script of what needs to happen and then using that to develop deliverables and a timeline. In terms of overall strategy, Dave mentioned the importance of expectation management---dealing with the fear, uncertainty and doubt with any major IT change. The manager has to keep leaders and users in the loop and heavily involve the users in testing. In Kansas, if they are ever 10% over budget or 10% late, they re-visit their plan. The IT project manager has to project confidence and competence, always having the two-minute “elevator speech” ready to briefly explain the project to those who need to know.

Russell Humphrey mentioned that staff always knows what IT changes need to be made, as they deal with IT every day in a practical way. The key is whether there is money available to make the changes. As another practical reality, changes that directly affect members are likely to get priority.   Members naturally don’t focus much on the “how” of things like bill drafting IT procedures, as they just want to have the finished product available on a timely basis. Russell talked about web development in Tennessee where they used a combination of in-house and outside talent. They envisioned a presence showing legislative independence using periodic re-assessment and extensive surveys and interviews with staff, lobbyists and media. Lastly, Russell mentioned the importance of declaring victory. They promoted their web changes by seeking media coverage, applying for awards and reaching out to the public.

Tara Perkinson talked about Virginia’s approach, which has some central staff along with House and Senate IT teams. They also follow a process of constant evaluation, generally looking for equipment in four-year cycles. Given varied levels of knowledge among users, they usually don’t purchase cutting edge products, but recently started a pilot project to use iPads for members of one committee. Even if there is a high cost initially, there are great potential savings in terms of staff time in creating bill books and in the recording of committee voting. In general, the Senate Clerk’s office has to connect and communicate with the many stakeholders who use their various IT systems. In everything, in-house control over planning and implementation helps ensure that the bugs are worked out and the system is ready to go at the critical session times. Also important is having a clear scope and timeline for your projects. Lastly, Tara noted that no project is complete until members are actually using it successfully.