02/28/2014 04:28 pm ET Updated Apr 30, 2014

Gov. Pat Quinn Plans for State Government 2.0

Illinois won't be your grandfather's state government.

Governor Pat Quinn's administration is poised to launch a vast and expensive modernization of state government's financial wiring and work processes that will revolutionize operations and likely displace ossified workers, upend encrusted work habits, and mothball-rusted file cabinets.

After being dinged by Auditor General Bill Holland a couple years ago for the state's failure to file
its required financial accounting records on time, delays which undermine bond house confidence and factor into bond ratings, Quinn's chief information officer, Sean Vinck put the bureaucratic pedal to metal in order heave Illinois into the 21st century.

The Governor's Office of Management and Budget is wading through a mountain of complicated bids by IT vendors looking for one to manage a risky process to transform and standardize the human resources, financial accounting, and procurement processes across 79 agencies under the governor's control.

"This is Sean's baby," GOMBy spokesman Abdon Pallasch said.

Vinck's "baby" is ambitious, and it has lots of needs. Lots.

The RFP that has been out for bid since October 2013 for a Project Management Office - Vinck's secret weapon that will serve as the "risk mitigation structure" to oversee a lucrative RFP for a software and implantation vendor -- included 3,519 business processes and software requirements that eventually will have to be whittled down to a more manageable 625.

Vinck says that other states have successfully implemented an across-the-board financial modernization of its financial accounting systems, but acknowledged that it's "risky, time consuming, and expensive". He said that's the reason for a project manager -- to squeeze out the risk to both the project and to taxpayers.

Specifically, the vendor who wins the PMO contract will be ineligible to bid on subsequent RFPs for the software or implementation contracts. The PMO will have no skin in that part of the game. Additionally, the PMO will be mandated to design the business strategy because Vinck says the project is more than just new software.

"We're looking to streamline business processes and implement new technology," said Vinck. "The purpose of the PMO is to put a risk mitigation structure in place."

Here's a layman's explanation of that bureaucratese:

"I think about it like a great Italian meal," Vinck offered. "You got to set the table first and get the kitchen organized."

A new financial system can boost Illinois' financial health.

"A new enterprise system can timely and accurately report data across state agencies," Vinck said, "And it can generate confidence with the bond ratings agencies" because of the timeliness and reliability of the financial data.

It could also save real cash.

Wisconsin, for example, under GOP Governor Scott Walker is also pursuing its own statewide IT upgrade. Walker's Administration expects to save $99 million over 10 years.

"Over a ten year period ... the State expects to spend $253,452,172 on implementing a new system and ongoing IT operating costs. In turn, the State will realize a total savings of $353,100,025 from the elimination of existing systems," according to a Wisconsin Department of Administration report, published on July 1, 2013.

The Illinois price tag and savings are likely much higher.

For that reason the potentially juicy project has drawn immense interest from top IT companies.

At the November 8 bidder conference, approximately 31 businesses were on hand to poke around for details on the state's project, including Deloitte & Touche, IBM, McKinsey & Co., Gartner, Grant Thornton, First Data, Senryo, etc. And bidders bombarded GOMBy with 55 questions that ran 13 pages.

The interest has been so intense that GOMBy felt compelled recently to issue a special procurement notice to bidders to tell them, essentially, "cool your jets, folks, we're working on it."

"This Notice is posted in response to multiple recent inquiries into the status of this procurement," according to the notice posted on February 11. "This remains an active procurement. A Notice of Intent to Award will be published to the Procurement Bulletin at the appropriate time."

Vinck says it is likely that the state will decide on its PMO RFP before the end of May.

"I hope it will be much sooner," Vinck said. "We're pretty close."

Once the PMO is selected, Vinck says an "ambitious time frame" exists to issue a RFP for the software and implementation for his "baby" -- within 60 days.

Whoever is sworn in 2015 will be grateful for the effort to haul the state into the 21st century, and the extra cash that it's slated to save.

But it is a risk -- a big risk that Quinn or his successor will need to manage.

Stay tuned.

David also edits, with the help of Capitol Fax's Rich Miller,
The Illinois Observer: The Insider, in which this article first appeared.