March 1, 2004 By Government Technology
-- Shane Peterson, associate editor
Secretary of Technology
Many technology executives -- current and former -- will tell you directing a large public-sector IT organization is almost more than one person can handle. So imagine having another job. George Newstrom, Virginia's secretary of technology, holds down the dual roles of IT czar and chief strategist for economic development.
Few people could take on both positions and do them well, but Newstrom is no ordinary person. The ex-Marine spent 28 years at systems integrator EDS, where he filled an array of executive positions before ending his career at the firm as president of Asia Pacific-Information Solutions. When Virginia Gov. Mark Warner tapped him as his technology point man, Newstrom had amassed considerable knowledge and experience working in EDS' health-care and government sectors, and involved himself in various advisory and leadership roles on numerous foundations and boards.
But his biggest challenge -- and opportunity -- came when Warner gave Newstrom the job of reforming the state's highly decentralized IT infrastructure, services and resources into a consolidated, centralized program that would rein in costs while boosting services to citizens and businesses. The governor also gave Newstrom the task of attracting investments to grow the state's tech-based economy, boosting research funding for the state's public universities and colleges, commercializing intellectual property and increasing broadband deployment.
Virginia's IT reform effort is perhaps the biggest under way at the state level. Newstrom admits the complex job is far from complete. But the wheels are turning and the first of dozens of agencies have begun to consolidate their IT infrastructure and resources under the control of Virginia Information Technologies Agency.
Despite the huge responsibility Newstrom carries, the secretary is a quiet man with a ready smile who enjoys talking with leaders in the IT industry and government about ways to make IT a better tool in the hands of the public sector.
-- Tod Newcombe, editor, Public CIO
Catherine Maras O'Leary
Cook County, Ill.
Catherine Maras O'Leary -- CIO of Cook County, Ill., since 1997 -- was centralizing IT before centralizing was cool.
About five years ago, she initiated a server consolidation and standardization campaign that continues to move servers once scattered across 80 county facilities into eight strategically located server farms. The move slashed Cook County's costs for owning and operating information technology. It also helps the jurisdiction -- the nation's second-largest county by population -- operate with a fraction of the IT staff in comparable counties.
The notion of standardizing and consolidating IT assets may be well accepted now, particularly as government jurisdictions struggle with declining revenue and shrinking budgets. But O'Leary said the enterprise approach initially took some selling to skeptical agencies accustomed to keeping their servers in-house.
"We worked with agencies to show them the true cost of ownership -- and that really won them over," she said.
A hands-on manager who readily rolls up her sleeves to work beside her staff, O'Leary also took a centralized approach to key county software systems. For instance, Cook County developed a central GIS application that is shared by multiple county departments, as well as municipalities -- such as Chicago -- that are located within the 935-square-mile jurisdiction.
O'Leary calls the countywide GIS one of her proudest achievements, noting that the technology gives multiple government agencies tools
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