North Carolina announced a new Innovation Center last month to fix and modernize the state’s IT systems. Instead of building a brand new office, officials decided to repurpose space on the first floor of the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources, a LEED-certified building located in the city of Raleigh.

Development of the Innovation Center is currently under way and will have an official launch in coming months, according to Gov. Pat McCrory’s office.

“This collaborative approach allows us to share facilities, test the latest technology and it does not require any more taxpayer dollars,” McCrory said in a statement.

The state’s CIO Chris Estes said that one of the top priorities the state has is to upgrade 42,000 state desktop computers that currently use the Microsoft XP operating system. Estes said he would like to use the Innovation Center to test multiple variations of end-user devices and their supporting technologies. The goal is to do that within the next 30 to 60 days. 

According to the governor’s office, state auditors reported shortcomings in how the government builds or manages computer systems. The report said that of 84 projects, “estimates were twice as high as originally anticipated and completion time took 389 days longer than initially estimated.”

Estes said McCrory wants to break down silos and improve collaboration. A recent review of the state of North Carolina’s software use showed that in many cases, the state was using multiple different types of software for the same function. Estes' goal is to reduce that number to two per function -- what Estes calls a "Noah's Ark" approach. To help achieve this goal, the Innovation Center will serve as a space to test new technology, making sure it is fully functional and can be used at the enterprise level.

“There’s some history in our state, at least where we’ve made large technology purchases and then have spent years trying to integrate and make that stuff work,” Estes said. “So the first mission of the Innovation Center is to make sure the stuff we buy works and then the second is to start involving constituent groups in helping the state solve some of these problems we have with technology and our process to modernize it.”

Four different groups will use the Innovation Center: state agency CIOs, individuals from universities and community colleges, vendors and the state’s hacker community. Only existing employees will work at the Innovation Center – no additional staff will be hired as a result of the launch.

One of the long-term goals for the Innovation Center is to hold hackathons in the space to engage the public in civic innovation. According to Estes, other plans include using the facility to train state employees on how to utilize new technologies the state purchases.

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Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.