Wink Hartman: Kansas should invest in information technology

Wink Hartman
Special to Gannett Kansas
Wink Hartman

Government has many functions, agencies and departments with the main goal of delivering service to the people of Kansas.

To best deliver these services and work for the people of our state, Kansas’ government must adopt and use business philosophies of putting the residents first. Government is above all a service business and needs to make efficient and quality service a top priority.

This year we’ve seen issues with government service delivery. The unprecedented number of unemployment claims filed with the Department of Labor due to COVID-19 has shown this. The heavy influx of claims could easily catch anyone off guard, but the response to addressing this influx was not quick enough. Plus, long-standing issues in state government contributed to the issue.

Information technology may not be the most exciting subject and mainframes — hardware and software for government administration will never light a fire under anyone — but it is critically important for the efficient delivery of government services. State government has mainframe technology dating to the 1970s and 1980s. This is not acceptable.

These outdated mainframes contributed to the unemployment system crashes this year and caused many Kansas residents to wait and wait. This was sadly the case in other states that have not put internal government infrastructure at the forefront.

We make wise investments in our state’s transportation infrastructure, which grows our economy. We also need to make similar investments in our state government’s information technology infrastructure in order to have a government that can better serve the public.

There are other ways besides information technology that can be done to address sudden influxes in the need for government service delivery. Another area would be looking at ways to cross train employees in order to temporarily redeploy staff as needed in the event of a sudden surge of need for one area. Cross training and easy ways to temporarily redeploy staff can address issues like the sudden surge in unemployment requests from earlier this year.

Between additional temporary staff to man call centers and a computer system that provides fast access to online services, we could have avoided the long waits and other issues that plagued the sudden surge of unemployment applications earlier this year.

Effective management of state government also needs to address issues like the need for more efficiency in state government. Several years ago, the Legislature commissioned an efficiency study that delivered a number of recommendations. Some of these recommendations were adopted easily by the executive branch while others were adopted via legislation. But many have never been adopted, falling victim to a Topeka mentality to avoid change.

When Wall Street was plagued by the 1960s paperwork crisis that caused a once a week shutdown of the markets, they developed a central securities depository to easily transfer ownership, followed by a centralized clearance and settlement system to reinvent and speed up our securities industry. This is the type of innovative thinking that should be at the heart of state government.

This is how we do things in the business world and these are things we need to look at to make our state work better for all Kansans.

Wink Hartman is the CEO of the Hartman Group of Companies in Wichita and was the 2018 Republican nominee for lieutenant governor.