October 12, 2012 By Brian Heaton
North Carolina’s new website by itself may not seem like a radical overhaul to the state’s IT program. But the project is the first step in a long line of changes people can expect to see under state CIO Jonathan Womer’s tenure.
On the job since February, Womer made it a priority to identify what state IT improvements can be done without significant financial investment. North Carolina’s website was the first project tackled, as staff gave it a facelift to improve usability and make online services and information more accessible. The site launched earlier this month.
But changes to procurement and IT consolidation also are on the horizon for the state. Although Womer wasn’t ready to announce the specific details, he told Government Technology that a new position is being created to revitalize the state’s IT purchasing efforts.
Photo: North Carolina CIO Jonathan Womer
Womer said the idea is to align IT procurement in a way similar to how it’s done on the federal level. The new person will have a national-level background, with the goal of reducing the amount of time necessary to get a good project off the ground, and to get the best procurement system in place for the state.
For now, however, smaller projects like the redesigned state website are on the agenda. Womer said what he has noticed in eight months as CIO is that time allocation is almost more fundamental then funding in order to have a successful project.
For example, North Carolina’s website redesign didn’t take a lot of money. Womer explained it was more about getting a staff member dedicated to coordinating all the different pieces and bringing agencies together for feedback.
Design work and coding the new site didn’t take long — just a couple of months. The challenge, however, was bringing the various stakeholders together and getting them on the same page. That took six to eight months to organize.
“The difficult and long-term part is getting all those content-focused people in the agencies,” Womer said. “Finding out who they are, bringing them to the table, showing them how an enterprise-level website can enhance their own state level [goals], and getting their feedback and buy-in.”
The website’s upgrades included optimization for mobile devices, putting all social media accounts used by state agencies on one page, and condensing the various methods of receiving electronic updates from state agencies into one section. Womer’s team also created an “Open Government” page so citizens can keep tabs on state government activities.
NC.gov also features an array of revolving photographs depicting scenic areas of the state as the background to the website content. The style differs from the trend other state and local governments are following of using a rotating image marquee for spotlighted news and updates.
Womer said the page-wide photos were important because, despite the utility of the website, it also serves as a brochure and promotional tool for North Carolina.
“You want this to really represent the state in a positive light, especially given the economic world that we’re in and the competition for business,” Womer explained. “You want it to accurately reflect the detail of the state, the real intuitive nature of our economy and how we’re geared for the future.”
Womer’s predecessor Jerry Fralick left in February. Fralick’s administration issued a report in April 2011 that estimated that North Carolina could save up to $57 million by consolidating and outsourcing the state’s technology infrastructure. Womer said some of the items noted in the report were eliminated by agency operators just being more efficient with resources, but a few remain in play.
One in particular concerns consolidating North Carolina’s major call centers. The state’s Information Technology Services agency operates the back-end software and hardware infrastructure for the centers. According to Womer, many other states outsource that work, so the agency may look into consolidating those in the future.
In addition, a statewide IT plan has to be delivered to the North Carolina Legislature in February 2013. Womer said that’s where he’s going to lay out some of the technology challenges the state has and the potential solutions.
What work gets done may ultimately depend on who is elected as North Carolina’s governor. With Gov. Bev Purdue not seeking re-election, a new administration will take office in January and plans could change depending on the priorities set by the new governor.
The three candidates vying for office are Democrat Water Dalton, Libertarian Barbara Howe and Republican Pat McCrory.
Although candidates usually don’t spend a lot of time talking about technology, they do share their opinions on business priorities and fundamental things that they may identify as being wrong. Womer believes that information can be helpful from a strategic planning perspective.
“That comes in handy when thinking about how you can facilitate changing business directions through a technology platform,” Womer said.
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