IT a Slam-Dunk in Kentucky State Government

'The state of IT is good. We have a robust IT infrastructure and when it comes to challenges, we're ahead of our peers'

by / March 23, 2005 0
Michael Inman --

Basketball is both a tradition and a success in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Judging by the remarks made by Michael Inman, commissioner of technology for the state, IT enjoys the same status.

Inman, who was guest speaker at the Center for Digital Government's March 22 Executive Teleconference, pointed out that the state government's early efforts to use IT, dating as far back as the 1970s, have laid the groundwork for a solid infrastructure on which to move forward. Now, under the leadership of Gov. Ernie Fletcher, Kentucky is spending more on IT than any other previous administration.

That doesn't mean Inman has all his problems solved. But he has fewer fires to put out compared to his colleagues. "The state of IT is good," said Inman. "We have a robust IT infrastructure and when it comes to challenges, we're ahead of our peers."

Inman was appointed commissioner of technology in June 2004, but his career in IT stretches back to include a job with Computer Associates International and a career with the U.S. Army in the Signal and Aviation branches.

The Commonwealth Office of Technology (COT) has 380 employees under Inman's leadership and is part of the Department of Finance and Administration, which is run by Finance Secretary Robbie Rudolph. COT runs all IT functions for the executive branch of Kentucky and that includes overseeing all shared IT infrastructures and identifying all enterprise applications and ensuring they are implemented in an enterprise manner (no silos please).

Inman's office is also responsible for strategic and tactical planning; assessing, recommending and implementing IT governance and organization design; and establishing partnerships and alliances for effective implementation of IT projects. Or, as Inman puts it, "if it relates to technology, we're there."

Governance is controlled by the Commonwealth Technology Council, a body of 40 to 45 technology officers from the state's executive offices, as well as by a standards committee, which handles more minute matters.

According to Inman, Kentucky's groundwork for a robust IT environment starts with the governor's vision, called the "Prescription for Innovation," which puts technology in the forefront with support for the rollout of broadband in the state as well as a comprehensive e-government initiative, all of which has been backed by increases in IT spending. Altogether, executive branch agencies spend $180 million annually on IT, according to Inman.

Investments in IT have paid off in the form of national recognition for the state. Kentucky's Web site has been ranked in the top 10 in the Best of the Web contest run by the Center and the state was ranked 12th in the nation in the 2004 Digital States Survey.

Inman credits the state's good standing to its consistent support for IT, going as far back as 1974 when Kentucky became one of the first states in the country to establish a statewide telecommunications network for public safety. The same decade, the commonwealth built one of the first consolidated data centers.

This year, Inman hopes to build on the past success by strengthening its public safety network through digital technology and wireless interoperability that will enhance the ability of first responders to stay connected wherever they are in the state. COT will also strengthen its data center and enhance the state's information highway, which is shared by state, county and local government agencies.

Other positive aspects of Kentucky's IT program include the state's very active GIS services, a new electronic health network, which will establish the use of electronic medical records and the Unified Criminal Justice Information Network, "one of the most advanced in the nation," according to Inman.

But like all states, Kentucky's IT operations are under strain from a variety of factors. Despite the increase in spending from the governor, Inman pointed out that demand is growing even faster, making it hard for COT to cover all bases. The most critical challenge right now is the growing workforce retirement crisis. "We anticipate that 20 to 40 percent of our workforce will be eligible to retire in the next few years," said Inman. Most of those anticipated retirements will occur among workers with hard-to-replace skills, such as COBOL. While the wave of retirements isn't expected to wash over COT for several more years, a current hiring freeze isn't helping Inman get his hands around the situation.

Possible options include more intern partnerships with the state's universities to introduce college students to public service, particularly in IT. Outsourcing is another option, but Inman said that is not the direction he would like to head.

Data security is another major concern. Inman likens the current situation with hackers and criminals to a "war" and has aggressive plans to defend the state's data from attacks, intrusions and other forms of criminal activity.

CIO Mike Inman and the rest of the state will be highlighting their IT accomplishments and much more at the upcoming Digital Government Summit, which takes place in Lexington on April 26.