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New York State CIO Bob Samson on the Benefits of a Massive IT Consolidation

Samson talked to GT about the challenges of staying flexible and innovative in one of the country's most populous states.

Bob Samson has only been New York state’s CIO since April, but his relationship with the state and IT spans decades. Today, the former IBM veteran is focused on the present and is proud of New York IT services — from its massive consolidation, which took place in 2012, to the fact that the state was first in the nation to name a chief information security officer and chief data officer, as well as its adoption of cluster CIOs to support the horizontal organization of IT services across 46 agencies. Samson recently shared his views with Government Technology during the New York Digital Government Summit in Albany.

1. How was New York able to consolidate its IT operations and what has been the outcome?

Gov. Andrew Cuomo recognized early on that technology was horizontal across agencies — it is transformational in terms of the power of applying it to government — and it needed to be secure. At that time, we had 37 agency CIOs covering 46 agencies and 53 data centers, 27 email systems and no consolidated strategy for cybersecurity or data. IT was run in 46 different silos.

We worked for two years putting together recommendations for the governor. Then he made the bold idea to work on what I characterize as the “all in” model. On Nov. 11, 2012, we moved about $1 billion of IT spend out of the agencies, and about 4,000 people from the executive agencies into what we renamed the Office of Information Technology Services (ITS). We have consolidated into one email system and have about 130,000 users. The next project is to continue the consolidation of the data centers, from 53 down to two. 

2. How has consolidation changed the way ITS and the agencies work with technology?

The 46 executive agencies we have responsibility for, we are their IT outsourcer. We manage all their IT and we are also their consultant to help apply technology to grand challenges they have. I characterize a grand challenge as something that people have thought about, possibly believed impossible to do, but it is something so transformational that it changes the trajectory of how work is done, how decisions are made and how outcomes are improved.

One of the more powerful things to come out of the creation of this organization is to get agencies to stop thinking and worrying about the infrastructure and focus on the application of technology as it relates to what they do. It really changes the dialog. All of that noise about what server, switch, phone, etc., has been taken off the line into what is a consolidated, best-of-class, resilient, secure infrastructure.

To my knowledge, no state has done what the governor has done here in terms of the all-in model. Some have come close, some have hybrids of it. But we have the all-in model: all the budgets, all the resources, all the standards, all the decision-making with regards to IT sits here. We are a trusted confidant, a trusted colleague, a trusted partner to do this work for them.

3. How do you stay flexible and innovative, given your large size?

A big part of it is culture. We’ve also put together a rigorous training program; we were one of the first agencies to build its own unique leadership program, which is intended to create the next generation of leaders and also bring them down the path in terms of innovative thinking in how to not be distracted by the bureaucracy and other things that tend to encumber innovative thinking. Instead, they can focus on the ideas that matter most.

4. Has data sharing become easier now that IT is consolidated?

Quite frankly, it makes our job easier when you have a leader who understands that technology is horizontal, is transformational and needs to be secure. If you start with the premise that IT is horizontal, then embedded in that idea is access to data. We were the first state to name a chief data officer five years ago. It starts with thinking of how to have a data strategy for the state that allows you to be horizontal in terms of data access as well. We are in the process of building that strategy.

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.
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