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GCN : October 2012
GCN OCTOBER 2012 • GCN.COM 45 MAX WHITTAKER GCN AWARDS PENSION SYSTEM RESUMPTION PROJECT CALIF. PUBLIC EMPLOYEES RETIREMENT SYSTEM The management of the California Pub- lic Employees' Retirement System (Cal- PERS) knew it had a problem as early as 1995, when it tried to modernize IT sys- tems that helped provide benefits to some 1.6 million public employees, retirees and their families. But it was only in the third try to fix it, at the end of 2009, that minds truly became focused. "That was when we realized that we were at a make-or-break point with the project, and that we couldn't go to the well anymore," said Dale Jablonsky, Cal- PERS' assistant executive officer. "We were told by our board that this was the last time, that it must work and that we must succeed with it." The basic problem was that the CalPERS infrastructure was based around 109 separate, siloed, and often antiquated IT systems that couldn't co- ordinate service across the entire Cal- PERS' environment. The first attempt at a solution would have modernized half of the legacy systems and backwards in- tegrated the rest. But it failed because it was impossible to integrate so many sys- tems that, as Jablonsky put it, presented "multiple versions of the truth." In 2006, CalPERS launched the Pen- sion System Resumption (PSR) project, but by the middle of 2009 it became ob- vious that this also was not working. The vendor on the project didn't fully appreci- ate the complexities involved, Jablonsky said, plus the milestones that were set didn't give it a chance to get that complex- ity into the PSR design. "When [the vendor] tried to imple- ment the plan it didn't do a proper system design and every time it tried to correct something, something else broke," he said. "In a rush to meet milestones and deadlines they had sacrificed the need for a truly elegant design." The final try at modernization, with a hard implementation date of Sept. 19, 2011, proved to be the catalyst because Jablonsky and his team took it as permis- sion to do whatever was needed. So they dedicated more resources at the prob- lems, creating "blended" project teams where all stakeholders sat at the table to- gether, and where most things were dealt with on the fly, not through the tradition- al hierarchical decision-making that led to problems festering and creating major delays. The CalPERS' environment is now based on a well-designed Service Orient- ed Architecture (SOA) that Jablonsky said he believes will enable the new, integrat- ed IT infrastructure to be maintained well into the future. He also put in place a gov- ernance structure that requires justifica- tion for all changes that are made, which is particularly useful when users start ask- ing for things that would take processes back to the way they were used to. "We tell them they really don't want to go in that direction," Jablonsky said. "We want to keep it pure." • --- Brian Robinson California retirement agency moves to flexible architecture, flatter decision-making, to overcome IT missteps With blended teamwork, IT stovepipes fell Front row, from left: Anthony Suine, Karen Ruiz, Dale Jablonsky, Donna Lum, Christian Farland. Back row, from left: John Nichols, Jacquelyn Silver, Tacey Derenzy, Quoc Ha and Karen DeFrank. ORGANIZATION: California Public Employees' Retirement System PROJECT: Pension System Resumption (PSR) Recovery Plan CHALLENGE: To integrate and consolidate 109 siloed systems to provide a coordinated, CalPERS- wide benefits system. SOLUTION: Create blended teams of stakeholders and IT person- nel that could build a complex, multi-layered service-oriented architecture to tackle problems on the fly. AT A GLANCE