In let­ter, IBM says state to blame for trou­ble with data cen­ter deal

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Kate Alexan­der AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN STAFF kalexan­der@states­man.com; 445-3618

All the fin­ger-point­ing and fault-find­ing over the state’s trou­bled data cen­ter con­tract has technology an­a­lyst Tom Starnes won­der­ing if Texas and IBM want this mar­riage to work.

“It’s like they don’t want to be to­gether, and that’s both­er­some to me,” said Starnes, who has been re­search­ing pub­lic-pri­vate technology part­ner­ships, in­clud­ing Texas’ $863 mil­lion data cen­ter con­sol­i­da­tion project.

Break­ing up, Starnes said, will do no one any good. IBM Corp.’s busi­ness rep­u­ta­tion would take a hit, he said. And the state would have to start all over again with an­other ven­dor to merge the data cen­ters of 28 state agen­cies into two up­dated and se­cure fa­cil­i­ties. There is no guar­an­tee the next re­la­tion­ship will work any bet­ter, Starnes said. In the mean­time, the agen­cies are stuck in a tech­no­log­i­cal limbo.

But a split might be im­mi­nent. Last week, the state is­sued a 30-day warn­ing to IBM that its con­tract could be ter­mi­nated if the com­pany does not fix a raft of ser­vice prob­lems and al­leged con­trac­tual breaches.

IBM dis­putes that its ser­vice has been sub­stan­dard and says it has fully up­held its end of the con­tract, ac­cord­ing to a let­ter de­liv­ered to the state last week. It is not a re­sponse to the state’s for­mal warn­ing but ad­dresses some of the same con­cerns raised in the warn­ing.

The com­pany lays the blame for the trou­bles at the feet of the Depart­ment of In­for­ma­tion Re­sources, which is over­see­ing the con­tract.

“DIR’s short­com­ings have been an is­sue since the very be­gin­ning of this pro­gram,” wrote Brian Whit­field, pub­lic sec­tor gen­eral man­ager for IBM’s Global Technology Ser­vices.

Whit­field cites two state au­di­tor re­ports and an in­de­pen­dent out­side re­view that all, to some ex­tent, found faults in the agency’s over­sight and man­age­ment of the project. The ex­am­i­na­tions also found that the agen­cies did not trans­fer hun­dreds of qual­i­fied em­ploy­ees to the project, as re­quired by the con­tract, and that the agen­cies were not will­ing par­tic­i­pants ded­i­cated to see­ing the project suc­ceed.

The July 14 let­ter fol­lowed the break­down of ne­go­ti­a­tions that were aimed at right­ing the mam­moth project and sal­vaging the re­la­tion­ship. At no time dur­ing those seven months of talks, which fell apart at the end of June, did DIR in­di­cate that IBM’s “ap­proach was any­thing less than ad­e­quate,” Whit­field wrote.

State of­fi­cials, how­ever, say they made clear as early as April that they were dis­sat­is­fied with IBM’s per­for­mance and the lack of progress on amend­ing the con­tract, ac­cord­ing to a June 25 let­ter from the state. The seven-year con­tract, signed in 2006, has been plagued by de­lays, ser­vice is­sues, equip­ment fail­ures and other prob­lems. So far, less than 12 per­cent of work to meet a De­cem­ber 2009 dead­line is done.

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