The grill: Clifford Gronauer

After Clifford Gronauer took the CIO post at the Missouri State Highway Patrol in 2001, he replaced all five of the organisation's major systems

Soon after Clifford Gronauer took the CIO post at the Missouri State Highway Patrol in 2001, he realized the agency needed a major technology overhaul to better support the 10,000 workers using its various applications. So he and his team decided to replace all five of the organization's major systems, which are used for computer-aided dispatch, mobile client needs, records management, the statewide message switch and managing criminal history information.

Clifford Gronauer

What are your career highlights? Former chairman of the Audrain County Emergency Services Board, which manages the county's joint communications and 9-1-1 services, and adjunct faculty member at Columbia College in Missouri.

What's the most promising technology on the horizon? Speech recognition.

What do you do in your spare time? Golfing and gardening.

What's the best piece of advice you've ever received? Your best career choice is to not always follow the money.

What's the best piece of advice you ever gave? Don't put your hands in the dog's mouth. Never assume you know it all.

Replacing the systems one by one would have been a monumental undertaking, but Gronauer took the project a step further and decided to replace them all at once. His leadership in guiding his department through that undertaking earned him a nod as a finalist for the Award for Innovation Leadership at the 2011 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium.

Why did you replace all five systems simultaneously? We actually had planned to do more of a sequential implementation, but along about the time we were about to issue our RFPs, there was a federal grant program announced through the Department of Justice. We had about two weeks to write up a grant proposal and submit it, and about a month later we got word we were approved. We got a $6 million federal grant. Now the kicker on these is that they come with a time frame attached, so we kind of huddled and asked, "Can we do this?" We came to the conclusion that if we organized it and managed it well, we thought we could pull it off.

Did the funding cover all five? No, not even close, but it was more than just seed funding. It was a substantial amount of money. We actually hired a consulting firm to come in and help us do the RFP process, and their initial guesstimate based on previous projects was that just one of these modules would cost us $15 million. It turned out not to be the case, and we take some of the credit for that because we developed our RFP in a very different fashion than most and we hit the market when it was kind of at a soft point, so it kept the cost on the project lower than it had been historically.

What was the total cost? About $12 million.

What made your RFP process economically beneficial? We threw a couple things in there that made it different. Rather than asking for the sun, the moon and stars, we wanted the basic off-the-shelf software cost, and if and when we determined we needed any kind of customization, we would handle those requests separately at a later date. We found that a lot of agencies that did these projects laid out their requirements and the vendors bid the project all at one time. By eliminating all of that up front, we got a very economical cost factor from all of the vendors. Then we've been very selective in the upgrades or customizations that we required. And in several of those instances, we were able to convince the vendors that if you build this for us, it would be a very useful enhancement for the rest of your customers, so we were able to get some of our customizations done at no additional charge. The other thing we did was we built the RFPs under the initial assumption that the state would be the primary user but that, if possible, we'd like to be able to offer this as a service to other agencies in the state]. Vendors saw it as an opportunity and gave us a deal up front.

What were the biggest rewards in upgrading all five at once? The biggest rewards were making the road officers more efficient. It really made a tremendous reduction in the amount of clerical work that the officers had to do.

What was the biggest challenge? Procurement. Most of my career has been in the private sector, and purchasing is very different in a government setting. It's filled with red tape and other challenges. I can see why they're there, but it really delays and makes things more difficult.

Is there something in that process that others can learn from? The biggest challenge we were up against was being very careful about a couple of words: must and shall. You have to be very careful about how those get applied, because those two words imply require. So something that might have been a very desirable feature or component, if you put must and shall [and] someone cannot offer that, they automatically become disqualified. We actually had folks going through the RFPs to highlight those words, and then we went through them one at a time and asked, "Is that really what we want?" because once you disqualify a vendor, that's it, they're out of the picture.

What were the keys to leading your IT staff through such an undertaking? There were some folks who were really supportive and excited about doing something new, different, better. And you had some who were very fearful, asking "What am I going to do now?" So we had to go through that assurance program with those folks to let them know we'd provide whatever training to get them up to speed, that we were going to make that investment because the biggest hurdle on these things is the business knowledge. I can take someone who knows all about the criminal justice system and how the data flows and train them on the new technology and I'm way ahead of the curve than with someone who knows the technology but has no clue on how police work goes.

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