of, How do I support the hardware and the network? If you keep worrying about that, its going to bog you down," she said. "What were trying to figure out is how do we get some of those hardware/infrastructure issues resolved so that we can spend more time collectively thinking about the advantages from an application perspective."

However, GOT avoids centralizing IT applications simply for the sake of centralization. The office is carefully weighing which functions benefit from consolidation and which do not.

"We no longer look at just the organizational issue. Were looking at the model from an enterprise and financial position," Valicenti said. "Can we do something cheaper collectively? If we cant, well leave it alone. Or if there is a service that is specific to a cabinet agency, then that agency ought to do it."

Customer Is King

As GOT becomes Kentuckys key source for vital technology capabilities, the organization is learning to act much like a commercial service provider. For instance, the office is implementing service-level agreements for many of its offerings that guarantee overall system availability, response times for fixing problems and other performance aspects. Furthermore, GOT recently created a team of "relationship managers" charged with learning and responding to the technology needs of its state agency clients.

The office must hone its customer skills because it increasingly competes for business against private firms and agencies own internal IT staffs, said Doug Robinson, executive director of GOTs Office of Policy and Customer Relations.

"In many cases, [state agencies and other customers] do have other options," he said. "So its really a business decision, and its a question of trust and loyalty. If we dont garner customers trust through proactive activities, theyre not going to trust us to manage an application server that has to be up 24/7."

According to Robinson, GOTs relationship managers are similar to account representatives assigned to major clients by private-sector firms. Although they do not represent a particular product line, the relationship managers regularly meet with GOTs customers to understand their requirements, solve problems and generally ensure that clients are satisfied with services they buy from the agency.

"Our responsibility is to be an advocate for the customers. The key is how do we anticipate our customers needs and make sure that we are working with them," said Robinson. "For example, I have a person working with the justice cabinet. His role is to know not only the agencys information technology needs, but also the environment in which that agency operates."

Formal relationship managers are one aspect of a comprehensive effort to instill a customer-centric attitude throughout GOT. The office also conducts internal training sessions to improve how its employees deal with customers, and it has made customer-relationship skills a criteria for hiring and employee evaluation.

Whats more, GOT has purchased Web-based survey software to more accurately measure customer satisfaction, and it may be in the market for a customer relationship management (CRM) software suite in the future.

Clearly, customer satisfaction is a bottom-line issue for GOT, which is funded entirely by revenue it generates from selling services. Robinson said the emerging customer-centered approach not only wins new business, it also helps retain existing clients. "If were providing value-added services and [current customers] feel like we respect their wishes and trust us to do what is best for them, we believe they will be less sensitive to small price increases," he said.

Built for Speed

Desire to improve Kentucky governments use of technology has touched off other structural changes as well. For instance, the state created CIO positions in all of its cabinet agencies and enacted major reforms designed to speed the pace of technology purchases.

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  | 

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.