October 2, 2006 By Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor
Tracy Williams has hit the ground running since taking over as Rhode Island's CIO in spring 2005. She was granted about 90 percent of the $65 million technology portfolio she requested at the last legislative session, giving the state a comfortable IT budget to work with.
She's deeply involved in the development of the state's health information exchange system, and is co-chair of the National Association of State Chief Information Officers' health IT committee. Such exchange systems are being developed nationwide to improve the electronic sharing of information among health agencies.
What is your No. 1 priority as CIO?
Improving government services delivery through technology.
How do you go about doing that?
Identify areas in state government that could benefit from technology or from modernized technology. For instance, here in Rhode Island, the Division of Motor Vehicles [DMV] is running on antiquated technology that dates back to the 1970s. Somewhere along the line, somebody had to recognize there's a need to modernize that.
When we are able to update the computer system right, we can update practices as well. A lot of people compare going to the DMV to going to the dentist, so you try to keep them out of that place as much as possible. Of course, with Real ID on the horizon, that's going to change our world as it relates to licensing, and how we process, recertify and prove citizenship, and all those things.
That's for another day -- hopefully not for 2008. It seems a little unreasonable that the Department of Homeland Security would require that level of modernization in such a short period of time.
What are the obstacles in accomplishing your priorities?
There are mostly two. The first one is definitely funding. As I assess the state IT budget, it's basically a "lights-on" budget. In other words, it will keep things running but there's not a whole lot of innovation budget available to do the things that would improve productivity.
Then of course after that, it's resources. After we put these systems in, we need people to run them. In the private sector these things would be measured differently: "Can I increase sales? Can I decrease overhead?" and the ROI [return on investment] on the project would sell it.
You've been charged with "centralizing the state information technology functions." What exactly does that mean for the state?
The centralization of IT came out of Gov. [Donald] Carcieri's "Fiscal Fitness" initiative. He actually ran on this concept of a big audit: to go through state government, look in all the corners and see where we could be more efficient.
One of those ideas was to consolidate services that were duplicative across different agencies, and one of those is IT. That makes a lot of sense because multiple agencies can run on one computer. They don't need to have their own little IT shop in each agency in a building that's right next to another agency.
Tell me about your role as the Assistant State Court Administrator for the Supreme Court. What does that entail?
I started at the Supreme Court in Rhode Island in 2001. When I arrived, the infrastructure was very far behind, so I put together very quickly a vision, strategy and a budget request. Over the four years that I served with the judiciary, we upgraded their entire portfolio of technologies.
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