As technology has advanced, so too has its organizational standing.

When computers were basically fancy calculators suited to overnight administrative batch work, they served as secretaries or administrative assistants. As their computational and networking skills developed, they moved into research positions and finally onto the mainline of commerce.

Today, computers are assisting or taking over nearly every area of business and personal life. They carry out and record financial transactions, they route telephone communication; they're used to schedule, calculate, estimate, predict, design, copy, identify, locate, buy, sell, diagnose. They've established a new type of global community and new ways of conducting business. "Smart" objects -- including entire "smart" houses -- are beginning to move from the laboratory into the real world.

As technology's star has risen, so too has the role of the high technologist. High technology is no longer peripheral or trivial; it is central and strategic. In industry, this is reflected in the rising importance of the CIO; in the public sector, it is reflected in initiatives to establish strategy-level positions, such as Kansas' chief information architect (CIA).

"Several years ago, the state set up a group of individuals from private industry and state government to see if there were things they could recommend to improve the efficiency of operations and the quality of services to citizens," explained Frederick Boesch, Kansas' first and current CIA. "Some of the recommendations coming out of that group were to establish the Kansas Information Resources Council (KIRC) and to establish the position of chief information architect."

Problems with the existing data processing management were an important motivation for establishing the council and CIA. At the time, the central IT organization was responsible for both operations and services and the combination wasn't working well. State agencies weren't collaborating and the state was losing money by missing potential economies of scale.

The advisory group's recommendations aimed at solving some of these problems by pulling control and management oversight functions out of the existing information technology organization and developing an organizational structure that encouraged interdepartmental collaboration. These goals are reflected in the structure of the council, which includes the secretaries of the major state agencies, the commissioner of the Board of Education, the executive director of the Board of Regents, the state judicial administrator, a member of the Senate, a member of the House, a member of the Corporation Commission and three nonvoting representatives from private industry. The CIA is the council's nonvoting secretary and is also responsible for carrying out council mandates.

"I am responsible to the KIRC," said Boesch. "I'm a member of the council and also principal staff to the council. My position and my duties, like the council's, are set forth in statute."

STATEWIDE CONTRACTS

An immediate target for the new organization was to secure statewide contracts to achieve better pricing. To help accomplish this, senior information managers were brought together to form the Information Technology Advisory Board, which is chaired by the CIA. The board established a committee to address statewide contracts, with the maintenance contract first on the list. This led to consensus on a five-year statewide maintenance contract which Boesch believes will save the state approximately $12 million.

"Previously, each data center established its own contractors," noted Boesch. "There is now a single contract that covers all vendors' equipment. From this success, the board moved on to establish other statewide contracts. The [board's] committees came together and established consensus where previously there had been disagreement. Therein lies the importance of a consensus-based process -- we have been able to step through a series of five or six contracts and are encouraging local governments and educational institutes to look at [and use] these contracts."

The new paradigm, however, has brought some new problems, such as how to track the larger

David Aden  | 
David Aden DAden@webworldtech.com is a writer from Washington, D.C.