The difficulty of recruiting and retaining IT personnel has been an on-going story within the industry. Nowhere has this challenge been greater than in the public sector. The exodus of IT personnel from the public to the private sector has been highlighted by the turnover of nearly 30 percent of state-level CIO positions nationwide within the past year.
In that environment, it is hard to fathom why three top-level IT professionals from the financial services arm of General Electric would join the Division of Information Resource Management (DIRM) of the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
Finding a Challenge
By the mid-1990s, the Raleigh-based subsidiary of GE Financial Services had become a huge success. In some ways, it had become too successful. The division aggregated significant market share -- significant to the point that the GE "parent" made a strategic decision to cap market growth of the local business unit. Future profit increases would have to come from enhanced efficiencies within the operation. For three entrepreneurial risk-takers within the company -- Bill Cox, Rick Moore and Vince Batts -- the fun was gone and the routine lost its challenge.
In 1995, DHHS was searching for a director for DIRM, a division that had largely been viewed as a support service for departmental administrative needs. Cox thought it might be interesting to try some of the things he had done as an IT professional at GE in government. After nearly 30 years in the private sector, he also thought it was time to make a more direct contribution to the community.
Before Cox accepted the position as director of information resource management of DHHS he talked to Moore, now DHHS chief technology officer, and Batts, now chief information architect and manager of enterprise system development of DHHS, about his plans and convinced both men to join him. Cox was eager to apply many of the approaches and techniques that had worked so successfully at GE to the health and human services enterprise of North Carolina, and he knew he would need help to orchestrate such a dramatic change in the organization.
What made DHHS attractive to these high-energy entrepreneurs? They performed a kind of informal environmental assessment of DHHS -- a large public enterprise comprised of 15 divisions, 22,000 employees, annual revenue of more than $10 billion and 150 critical information systems - and identified a number of factors that made it both a challenge and an opportunity. As Moore explained it, "First, welfare reform was about to transform the way in which the social services organization would deliver benefits and services to citizens. The department, legislature, governor and local communities were talking about moving to a client or customer focus, driven by outcome measures and objectives. Second, North Carolina had just begun to focus on developing a statewide information technology infrastructure. Finally, the department had a large, visible project that badly needed fixing. This provided both the initial tactical success target and a strategic jumping-off point into more fundamental changes coming within DHHS."
Still, GE is generally acknowledged to be one of the best-managed companies in the world. How would they apply what had worked for them at GE to DHHS?
Bringing the Team Together
All three men knew they could make IT work and add value to the organization, but it was only in hindsight that they became fully aware of the unique perspective, skills and values that they were adding to DHHS. They each give credit to GE for the invaluable training and education they received there, even if they were not completely aware of it at the time. "At GE, everyone you worked with had these skills or developed them quickly; you just took them for granted because they were necessary to the way we did business," said