Larry Olson: One of Government Technology's 25 Doers Dreamers & Drivers

He's convincing famously independent Texas state agencies that the consolidation plan offers a better way to conduct government business

by / March 8, 2006
This is an excerpt from the 2006 "Government Technology's 25 Doers Dreamers & Drivers" an annual tribute to those individuals who are redefining and advancing technology's role in government and society.

Comfortably settled into the private sector, former Pennsylvania CIO Larry Olson didn't expect to return to public service. But Olson's home state of Texas made an offer he couldn't refuse: Legislative leaders were ready to overhaul how state government acquires and uses technology -- and they wanted Olson to lead the initiative.

"There was a desire to really move the state to the next level," said Olson, who left his position with a Pennsylvania-based IT management consulting practice in 2004 to become chief technology officer for Texas.

"At the time, I said I wouldn't get back into public service for anyone else," he said. "This was an opportunity to give something back to Texas, which has been very good to me."

Now, almost two years later, Olson is well on his way to consolidating Texas state data centers, expanding cooperative purchasing and implementing shared IT services under landmark legislation known as HB 1516. Through a mix of strong legislative backing -- the bill gave broad new authority to Olson's Department of Information Resources (DIR) -- and careful attention to collaboration, he's convincing famously independent Texas state agencies that the consolidation plan offers a better way to conduct government business.

Purchasing through the DIR's cooperative contracts grew by nearly 30 percent in 2005, totaling $667 million, Olson said. He expects that figure to reach $750 million this year, as state agencies comply with mandatory use of DIR contracts for most IT hardware and software buying. Furthermore, the DIR intends to release a request for offers to consolidate and operate the state's 27 largest data centers this month.

Olson gained first-hand experience with statewide IT consolidation during his four-year stint as Pennsylvania CIO, where he helped the state save nearly $300 million.

But making Texas IT behave like an enterprise posed an even bigger challenge. In 2004, Olson estimated that Texas spent almost $2 billion annually on technology -- most of it on an agency-by-agency or project-by-project basis. And, unlike Pennsylvania, power in Texas government is widely dispersed among state lawmakers, boards and commissions.

Given that reality, Olson takes an inclusive approach. He hired former state agency CIOs to run the DIR's cooperative purchasing and shared data center programs. He tirelessly promotes collaboration among state agencies and between state and local governments at events throughout Texas. Olson even installed a new DIR representative in the Texas Emergency Operations Center so the agency could more quickly assist other state agencies and local governments during a disaster.

These efforts are paying off. Olson said support for the Texas consolidation plan is coming together faster than in Pennsylvania.

"It really reflects the philosophy that you have to work for buy-in from everybody," he said. "If you treat everyone as peers and talk to them in business terms about the benefits of doing this, they'll respond."

-- Steve Towns