Over a 12-year career with the state of Florida, Jason Allison has worked on technology from almost every angle. Now, as state CIO, he has a strong resume for returning needed stability to Florida enterprise IT.
Allison has held positions ranging from technical to policy management. He began his career manning the help desk. He served as a departmental CIO. And just prior to being named Florida’s top technology official in December, he served as the governor’s IT policy coordinator — where he not only had a hand in designing his new agency, but also got a real-world education on the budgetary process and the politics that go with it.
Allison will need every bit of that experience and insight as he works to restore credibility to a state technology office that’s been built and torn down repeatedly over the past decade. The current Agency for State Technology (AST), created by lawmakers last year, marks the third incarnation of a state technology office in Florida since 2005.
“Our biggest challenge is overcoming what I would call the sins of the past,” Allison said. “We’ve had prior iterations of centralized IT organizations, so everybody has an opinion. These haven’t necessarily been successful endeavors previously.”
To combat that skepticism, Allison moved quickly to assemble an experienced team that’s focused on helping state agencies upgrade their technology. Upper management slots at the AST are filled with state government veterans who understand Florida’s enterprise IT history and have a real-world perspective on how to move forward.
A big part of the agency’s task will be implementing legislatively-mandated project supervision in a way that agencies view as valuable. The AST is charged with reviewing technology purchases worth more than $250,000 and overseeing IT projects costing $10 million or more.
“A lot of collaboration has to happen there,” Allison said. “As a new agency on the scene, we’re building new relationships, introducing ourselves again and making sure that we’re not an impediment. We’re letting our agency peers and our customers know that we’re here to support them. We will succeed -- and God forbid fail – together.”
A few other priorities were spelled out in the bill that created the AST, like merging the state’s two primary data centers and developing a unified IT services catalog for state customers. Working in concert with agency CIOs and statewide vendors, the AST also mapped out a new IT strategic plan.
Moving forward, Allison says he’s concentrating on beefing up security, simplifying technology purchasing and consolidating applications.
Last year, the AST hired Danielle Alvarez, former manager of IT security and compliance for the Florida Department of Financial Services, as state CISO and released a strategic plan for security. But that’s just the start, Allison said.
“We’re a very large state, and while we’re consolidated operationally in some of the data centers, there’s still a lot of work that needs to be done on the application front,” he said. “That’s a multi-year journey, and we’re talking to the legislature and governor’s office and making sure they understand that.”
Like most CIOs, Allison expects to push infrastructure and applications to the cloud whenever it makes sense. That effort will include inventorying and rationalizing applications currently used across the state.
“We haven’t formally adopted a model as it relates to cloud. The way that we’re moving, though, is we have a cloud-first mentality,” he said. “It’s just a question of making sure that we understand fully the landscape before jumping in, and we’re developing that kind of decision support system right now.”
The AST also is partnering with the state’s contracting agency — the Florida Department of Management Services — to provide subject matter expertise for IT purchasing. The intent, Allison said, is to make IT contracts more responsive both to agency needs and changes in the marketplace.
Having been an agency CIO himself — he spent almost two years as CIO of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation — Allison says he views his new role as an enabler.
“We’re here to add value,” he said. “From here on out, it’s really just facilitating our business units and giving our CIOs what they need to carry out their agency missions.”
He also understands that given the history of enterprise IT in Florida, there’ll be skeptics. “Right now we’re talking a mean game. We’re going to have to show people that’s exactly what we do.”
Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government Technology, Public 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.