Aspen Institute: Three ways California could improve tech project oversight

Published On: May 20, 2021

As part of a presentation by Aspen Institute’s Tech Policy Hub and the Tech Talent Project held on May 11, three teams presented concepts on how to improve California’s Project Approval Lifecycle (PAL), the state’s oversight process for large-scale technology projects. The recommendations are part of the California Department of Technology’s Vision 2023 initiative to improve the way state government uses technology to serve Californians.

The teams of technology experts spent a few weeks analyzing the complexities of PAL before proposing a solution that could improve the overall process.

The first speaker, Kleiner Perkins entrepreneur Tejash Unadkat, tackled the issue of adapting PAL to the size and scope of projects. Specifically, larger projects total over $25 million in funding and have a greater chance of sinking.

“We dug further and found that the larger the project, the higher the probability that would increase the budget and potentially fail,” Unadkat said.

Ultimately, Unadkat and his colleague Colin Jenkel proposed that all projects be capped at $25 million with a length of four years, requiring numerous validation and proof of concept checkpoints in the very early stages of project planning.

“This will encourage smaller, more iterative projects to move forward,” Jenkel said.

The second proposal focused on the state’s COVID reporting system as a “success story,” establishing a basis to create the California Technology Fellowship program.

“The California Department of Technology, and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) decided to band together with their two bodies of knowledge to successfully partner and acquire a new COVID-19 reporting software,” innovation ecosystem builder Erika Cheung said. “That really begs the question of how is it the case of this COVID-19 reporting software was acquired in two weeks?”

Cheung and her colleague, software engineer  Rohit Chandra, found that one of the keys to a quick and efficient digital procurement was cross-departmental collaboration, as was exhibited by the two departments.  Executing such collaboration across agencies will require public workers to develop new technology skills, Cheung said.

“What we suggested is creating a 12-month program, where you embed 12 Senior professionals that work across 10 different state departments to come into the CDT office and work on procuring some subset of innovative technology products.”

Such a program would need championing from state higher-ups, such as Gov. Newsom and CDT officials, but could pay off in the way of quicker delivery times and projects running under budget.

The third team presented a tool called the “PALPro Planner” to align project planning with the state budget process.  “The tool allows project owners to easily schedule deliverables around key budget cycle dates, and improve the PAL workflow to keep teams on track. Implementing this tool will ultimately enable faster project approval under the PAL process,” says the proposal.

The PAL process, which includes four stages, (business analysis, alternative analysis, solution development, and project readiness and approval) was introduced during the Brown Administration as an alternative to feasibility study reports (FSR) that were used in the past to take technology projects from concept to production.

Watch the hour-long presentation here:


About the Author: Will Keys

Will Keys writes about technology issues for the GovReport. He is a graduate of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. He can be reached at will at