Lynn Harris

CIO and IT Division Director, New Mexico Environment Department

by / March 1, 2006
In 2005, Lynn Harris became CIO of the new Information Technology Division (ITD) after serving as the chief information technology security and privacy officer in the Office of the State CIO. She now reports to the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED) cabinet secretary.

Harris leads the effort to align IT goals and strategies with departmental goals and needs, which includes managing and maintaining NMED- and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-required information systems; managing New Mexico's EPA central data exchange node; providing statewide support to all district and field offices; managing the department's IT projects; and supporting state IT consolidation activities, to name a few.

What's the most imminent, specific challenge facing the ITD?
There are four challenges: an aging technical infrastructure; silo funding by federal agencies; staff shortage and training needs; and data quality. Little investment in technical infrastructure has been made since 1991. The daily business operations of the department -- from issuing permits to tracking violations and monitoring contamination -- are increasingly technology dependent and suffer from a long-term lack of capital planning and investment.

How do you align IT goals with departmental goals and needs?
Two things have helped us: IT governance and IT portfolio management. We established an IT Governance Board that helps us better understand and manage organizational complexity by making IT investments in a transparent and traceable manner. We use portfolio management [to] help control how our limited capital and human resources are spent. It also helps us select and prioritize IT projects -- align people, projects and organizational priorities -- and provides a method for NMED to put its business strategies into operation.

XML shows great promise for information sharing in the public sector. How does XML help states with environmental reporting and information sharing between state agencies and with the federal government?
The benefits include improved data quality by eliminating duplicative data entry and the transmission of incorrect file formats, better data integration, and improved availability of environmental data. XML helps us connect silos of information and allows cross-organization data sharing based upon standard formats and protocols. Within the department, we use XML technology to integrate 26 parochial databases containing geospatial information into a single repository of geospatial information and maps for the use of the entire agency. We also use XML to share well and water-quality data with the Office of the State Engineer.

The Environmental Information Exchange Network is an EPA-driven approach for exchanging environmental data among the EPA and its state, tribal and territorial partners. Using the Internet and standardized data formats, the network exchanges information between nodes, or portals, maintained individually by participating states to collect and store accurate information, integrate information from across many state sources, and provides secure access to information.

In fiscal 2005, New Mexico became the 37th state to have successfully implemented a node on the EPA Exchange Network. We are now one of only three states that have successfully sent three data flows -- sets of environmental information -- to the EPA, and we're working on our fourth data flow.
Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor Justice and Public Safety Editor