Ed Toner

Urgency to Fail: Why We Stayed the Course

When the recent health crisis arose and States were being overwhelmed nationwide, technology groups obliged, and in many cases with urgency, to introduce new technology. Each offered something  to address the issues that were commonly impacting the public sector, often the solutions were not sufficiently tested. In some states, the rush to deploy technology without proper testing compromised projects that otherwise might have had successful outcomes. In worse cases, the haste to react inadvertently introduced unnecessary security issues.

Nebraska was already in a good position to address the event. We had adequate technology and it was not overwhelmed. Therefore, we had the luxury of taking our standard methodical approach. We ensured our systems were highly available, and they were able to support the citizens, then we froze non-critical changes. We stayed the course, which meant putting any plans for introducing new technology on hold.  The tactic is common throughout our industry. Drawing from my career experience, if you are a credit card processor, you surely don’t rush new technology in during Black Friday, and wait until at least after Cyber Monday to make those changes. 

Still, we received countless solicitations. Each vendor promised “incredibly easy to implement” support tools. We did not have time to investigate. “Easy button” technologies flooded our email and phone lines daily. All promised incredible results. We steered our course. Installing a tool simply because you can is not a plan.

Change introduces issues, and during a time when we were all becoming more dependent on technology, we had to maintain uninterrupted service. Our operational metrics showed no major issues, and critical systems maintained 100% availability. Nebraska’s Health Directives urged businesses statewide to encourage work from home, and our customer Agencies complied, prompting a massive demand for technologies that were already available to them in our Service Catalog.

Nebraska’s process is, we fully vet the technology we offer. We work diligently with our business partners so we can understand the implications before committing to, and installing a product.  In other words, technology does not lead the project, but a clearly articulated business requirement leads the way. We always talk to the group most affected by the issue, first working with the business to determine their pain points. Then we define the problem, and finally, we find the tool to solve the problem.

The total availability of our systems ensured that the Agencies could focus on their mission to serve Nebraskans. At one point during the past two months, a vendor contacted me. With no attempt to understand our current state they offered a new unemployment system for Labor.  In fact, we did not need it. The agency had already updated their system and moved to the cloud successfully last year. Nebraska’s Unemployment website performed particularly well during March and April 2020, according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF). Only four other states can say the same. According to ITIF, 86 percent of state government unemployment websites failed at least one basic test for mobile page load speed, mobile-friendliness, or accessibility.

Below are the test results published on ITIF’s website.  Grey is GOOD!


Map of United States displaying ITIF's test results of State unemployment websites on mobile devices
Map of United States displaying ITIF's test results of State unemployment websites on accessibility standards
Map of United States displaying ITIF's test results of State unemployment websites on surge in unemployment claims


The technology had a clear purpose and defined outcomes for success. Our business partners are counting on us to maintain the service that keeps technology afloat. In this time of overwhelming need, let our value be to ensure we think before we offer new technology and always deliver business defined needs.

I always appreciate the work you do each day for the citizens of Nebraska, but you have exceeded my expectations during this period of uncertainty.

Ed Toner