Alabama's CIO and secretary of technology, Brunson White, will resign at the end of the year, explaining that it is time for him to put his family ahead of the 175-mile daily commute needed to lead IT in the state.
His replacement, Joanne Hale, a professor of management information systems at the University of Alabama, will be sworn in on Jan. 4 as the new leader of the state's technology policy and infrastructure. White called Hale an "eminently qualified" replacement, and also noted that his three year, nine month run with the state was a success -- especially when compared with his first run at serving Alabama state government.
White joined Alabama around 2000 as the sole executive for IT, he explained, and while everyone had good intentions, it seemed to him that the state wasn't ready for a mature IT effort yet.
"There was really not one page for everybody to get on back then," White recalled. "They didn't even understand what they were getting into, and people went into it this time not only with everybody being on the same page, but also the governor was able to consistently back up those decisions day in and day out."
The governor was instrumental in building the state's IT presence up into what it is today, White said. Building a central IT policy framework became a cornerstone of his position as secretary of technology when he rejoined the state in 2013, and his team has since bred a level of maturity into the organization that wasn't there before.
"I felt like this was unfinished business for me," White said. "I have thoroughly enjoyed doing it, and I think we've made substantial headway."
The main accomplishments of White's tenure were an overhaul of the state's software and upgrades to the state's cybersecurity posture. Before his office was created, agencies were permitted to run unsupported software when it was deemed appropriate or needed; but that, White said, is no longer the case.
"A good example of that is when we came into existence, 18,000 PCs were running Windows XP. We got them all off," he said. "We bought 15,000 new PCs in the first year I was here."
The state is now configuring a new CGI Advantage ERP system, which is ready to replace the state's old technology. And the state has a lot of old technology, White said, which was the thing that surprised him most, although they're now upgrading much of it.
"We did something a few weeks ago that I've never been involved with in my entire life. We actually moved a mainframe," he said, explaining how they put all the hard drives on a truck and drove them a few blocks to be reinstalled. "I don't think people do that hardly ever, except in government. Because we just didn't have the budget for buying a new one."
The move was a part of an effort to centralize the state's main IT systems, though White note that in Alabama, it's not quite the effort it might be in other states -- they only have two data centers and an on-demand system for the mainframe.
The state also began a transition earlier this year to a hybrid cloud system that makes use of Microsoft Office 365 and Azure for Government. These are the kind of projects Hale will work on in the coming years.
White's office put a lot of policy in place that's now just waiting for funding to be implemented, such as IT investment, IT human capital management, IT model organization, and a common nomenclature for job titles and functions so there's less confusion between agencies.
"Dr. Hale has been involved with the state for a long time," White said. "I've known her since her and her husband started the MIS program at the University of Alabama. She's been an advisor to the state for years and working on many blue ribbon panels that have studied IT. She's one of a handful of people that convinced me to do this job, and she's in a situation where she can do it herself now."
One of the most critical projects on the docket for Alabama now that the ERP is almost finished, White said, is a network redesign.
"It's really important that we do that," he said. "It's an old point-to-point T1 network that won't get us where we want to go in the future. It's too expensive, it's antiquated, it doesn't have enough bandwidth. One of the things that's going to be a big deal for us going forward is the adoption of cloud. The beauty of redesigning the network is that it [will save money]. The diversity of use will be profound."
White said he doesn't know what he's going to do next -- but he's not retiring. He said he expects he'll end up consulting again.
"Getting an opportunity to work with Gov. [Robert] Bentley was one of the joys of my life," he said. "I'll cherish it forever. It has been a ton of fun and I'm going to miss it some. But I've made commitments to my family ... and it's time for me to honor that."
Colin wrote for Government Technology from 2010 through most of 2016.