Overcoming IT challenges and laying the foundation for more effective governance is the focus of a sweeping initiative to transform the state's technology agencies.
RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina is moving ahead with plans to overcome IT silos and build a more unified technology enterprise. During his morning remarks at the North Carolina Digital Government Summit* on Aug. 31, CIO Keith Werner shared the challenges facing state government and the overall strategy for overcoming them.
As with many state IT organizations, Werner said North Carolina was not immune to the problems of operating as siloed and disparate agencies for many years. Further compounding this is that there's little to no information sharing, no effort being made to consolidate the state’s buying power, and a history of projects running over budget. A 2013 report found that 74 percent of state IT projects came in over budget and behind schedule.
“We discovered very early on in Gov. [Pat] McCrory’s administration that the management and operations of IT in the state of North Carolina needed to be modernized,” Werner said. “Gov. McCrory set the vision for moving forward; it was simply that he thought interacting with state government should be as easy as checking a score on your smartphone or shopping online.”
The overarching strategy for the IT agency is one of gradual and calculated transition. What was once known as the Department of Information Technology (DIT) will become OneIT, a cohesive structure of technology governance.
As for the guiding principles behind the consolidation effort, Werner said special care is being taken to “not break the business,” collaborate among the various partners, maintain transparency and draft a written plan with each of the agencies involved.
“We also needed to ensure that the appropriate organization balance was in place from a governance and compliance perspective,” he said. “As we looked at the operating model, we wanted to make sure that we met the following goals: simple and reliable service delivery, standardization, cost efficiency, centralization of control — while retaining strategic focus.”
IT staff from across the Cabinet-level agencies will be included in the ongoing discussions moving forward. “This is a complex move and one that the state has really not had to make before,” Werner said, adding that the transition requires a carefully phased approach in which the various internal stakeholders communicate and cooperate, and where the human resources and finance departments are heavily involved.
In addition to the holistic approach to the consolidation, the team will also be looking at how the state acquires technology solutions through procurement reform, as well as how vendors interface with state processes and procedures.
Through a newly created vendor management role, the CIO hopes to streamline the interaction process and open dialog about upcoming initiatives and potential opportunities for the vendor community.
“And then of course, we know there are going to be many lessons learned from each of the transitions we are going through that are going to guide us through subsequent transitions," Werner said. "So we need to learn as we go."
Moving forward, he said the large consolidation initiative will ultimately result in greater operational efficiency, cost savings and additional staffing. Werner said maintaining staffing in the public-sector technology space has been a challenge across all agencies, but officials are hopeful the ongoing transition will help attract new, retainable personnel.
“To achieve Gov. McCrory’s vision that I mentioned earlier, it involves ensuring that we are accountable and efficient with governance and management of IT across the state, and we believe this will be accomplished through this restructure,” he said. “We also believe that this will enhance North Carolina’s ability to attract, retain and reward IT talent. This has been a longstanding issue with the state, all of our agencies and DIT. Our ability to consolidate around that practice is central to our long-term success.”
So far, Werner said several agencies have been moved and more are slated for near-term transition. The lack of a hard implementation date in the state legislation means the team will be able to approach the project carefully.
“We want to make sure that this is done right," he said. "We want to make sure that it is very thoroughly planned and then executed flawlessly.”
*The North Carolina Digital Government Summit is produced by the Government Technology events division and the Center for Digital Government, both owned and operated by e.Republic Inc., the same parent company as Government Technology magazine and Govtech.com.