When Carolyn Parnell became Minnesota CIO in early 2011, she didn’t know what she was in for: A few months later, a budget dispute between Republican lawmakers and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton led to a 20-day government shutdown — during which 75 percent of the state’s staff was temporarily laid off.

Then, in June 2011, the Legislature passed a bill to consolidate all IT functionality in the state under Parnell’s office — a consolidation that she says is about one-fifth complete because it’s a massive, multiyear undertaking. “We started with a mandate to  pull under one roof all aspects of IT — people, projects, infrastructure, applications — which was scattered among 70-plus organizations,” she said. “This had not been done in the state before.”

Within about six weeks, Parnell’s organization grew from 350 employees to 2,100.

The reorganization is the largest in Minnesota state government in decades, said Tarek Tomes, assistant commissioner for customer and service management at MN.IT, the state’s new IT agency. “Carolyn’s leadership has been the instrument that brought this together,” he said. “Her style is employee-focused, innovative and very reform-oriented.”

For Parnell, defining standards for delivering technology services was an important part of the undertaking. She and her team created the Agency Centralized IT Reference Model after realizing that existing models didn’t meet their needs. “We looked high and low to find an IT reference model that already existed, but we had to develop our own,” she said. “And we did, after some research in both the public and private sectors, so we’re comfortable with where we ended up.”

Where MN.IT ended up, Parnell said, was with a standard IT language and set of IT functions — versus having more than 70 ways to deliver IT prior to the consolidation. Parnell and her team also have met their mandated consolidation timelines thus far. “There was legislative language around when we had to have certain things completed,” she said. “The fact that we were able to meet that timeline was quite the accomplishment and a great team effort.”

Photo by Jessica Mulholland

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Jessica Mulholland, Web Editor Jessica Mulholland  |  Web Editor/Photographer

Jessica Mulholland has been a writer and editor for more than 10 years. She was previously the editor of Emergency Management magazine, and she loves that she can incorporate her love of photography into her work as a part of the Government Technology editorial team. Jessica can be reached at jmulholland@govtech.com and @jbronwen on Twitter.