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The Road Ahead

State CTO Brian Rawson discusses Texas' technology vision.

by / September 28, 2007

On May 25, after five months as interim chief technology officer (CTO) of Texas and executive director of the state Department of Information Resources (DIR), Brian Rawson officially took over the post.

As director of the DIR's service delivery division, Rawson was involved with some of the state's most notable projects, including overseeing the public-private partnership that produced TexasOnline and the state's cooperative contracting program. He also assembled a quality assurance team to evaluate contract proposals for the data center consolidation project currently under way.

Now, as he moves into the top spot, he's ready to execute on the technology vision that has been slowly evolving in Texas state government. He recently spoke with Texas Technology about what that vision entails and what's to come for Texas government in terms of technology.


In the announcement of your appointment, the technology vision and direction for Texas were mentioned several times. Can you describe that vision and talk a little bit about what's ahead for DIR and the state?

 In a nutshell, I've always believed that a recipe for success in Texas has three ingredients.

The first one is what I call clarity of purpose. We have a couple of things that I think give us clarity of purpose to legislative leadership and agency customers, but often our citizenry. So we have a set of core principles that we discuss every time we talk about a technology initiative within the state, and those core principles are the need for technology to be driven by the business. Project execution has to be collaborative and coordinated with our agency brethren and also the citizenry. And we in the technology business must be held accountable for outcomes, and we believe they must constantly be measured. When we talk about core principles in the context of clarity of purpose, those are the kind of things we talk about.

In terms of clarity of purpose, we have five goals, and we hold these very near and dear to our hearts. The first goal is to reduce government costs. The second goal is to drive effective technology contracting or what you may call supply-chain management. The third goal is to leverage shared technology operations. A huge shared goal for us is to define, implement and execute a variety of shared technology operations. The fourth goal is to continue to promote the innovative use of technology in government. There's a lot of room for improvement there. There's a lot of territory, and we want to be the organization that continues to press the envelope and promote the innovative use of technology in government. And last, certainly not least important among our five enterprise goals, and is to protect information technology and its related assets. I'm talking about information security and privacy management initiatives. That seems to be a national trend, and it certainly is a trend in Texas.

So I talked about three ingredients in our recipe for success, the first ingredient is clarity of purpose. We do have clarity of purpose. The second ingredient in Texas is a commitment to execute, and I'm talking about a commitment that starts at the top, by the governor, legislative leadership, individual agencies, business leadership, and then not least important, IT leadership at the state agency levels as well as the office of the CTO. Then third, and my personal favorite, I believe in Texas we universally have a passion for public service. It is evidenced in our agency leadership, again our legislative leadership as well as our IT leadership in the state. I believe we have a real passion to serve. So those are the three ingredients: clarity of purpose, a commitment to execute as well as an inherent passion for serving our citizens.

You're not a stranger to the organization. You were a key part of the team that has been working on this transition in Texas, but talk a little bit about how your position has changed now that you're the CTO. What's it like now, and how's it different?

Well, you know, I've been on the job about nine days. I think this is day 10, so you might have to ask me that question as a follow up. But honestly, I can give you the short answer. I served as the interim chief technology officer for the state for the preceding five months. So I can tell you based on the last five months, very little has changed from Friday May 25th, which I think was my first official day and Thursday May 24th. There is accountability to execute on some very strategic initiatives - that's our data center services initiative; telecommunications initiative; keeping our information communications technology, or ICT, cooperative contract program vibrant and meeting the needs of our constituents. I would say probably the biggest difference at this point is that I feel fully accountable, and you know, I love accountability. I think it's a very healthy pressure. I like that pressure, and I want that pressure in a constructive way to permeate both my staff within the Department of Information Resources and IT officials across Texas government.

Will people notice significant differences in the way you're going to do things and the way things were under former CTO Larry Olson?

I want to be really clear. Cliff Mountain, our new board chair for DIR, has stated this very eloquently - and I would agree - that we have a vision intact, and I covered that a moment ago. We have a mission intact. Our focus has got to be on executing on that mission. So in terms of vision, will our vision manifest itself in different ways than it's been documented to date? Certainly. Innovation is going to be a huge platform for me, and that will be part of our vision. But my focus is introspective in one regard, and that is we must execute on what I perceive to be a very well thought out, very well architected vision. It's taken us three years to define and refine that vision. Our focus will be on execution, so you will not see a holistic change in the vision, you will see an evolution - an incremental evolution to improve on the vision, but not revamp it.

How do you work with other leadership to fulfill the vision?

First and foremost, it's about relationships. We have a lot of synergy with the Governor's Office, but we also have synergy with legislative leadership. It does get back to relationships, making sure the Legislature understands from our perspective that we are driven by the business necessity in Texas, the agencies' business. We are here to serve. We do want to be accountable. In fact, we embrace accountability and with that as our backdrop, the bottom line is we're here to execute public policy. We do not define public policy. That is a legislative activity and a Governor's Office activity, but we do execute public policy and we do it in the most effective and efficient means, and in the most accountability-driven fashion that we possible can.

In your first question you talked about what's ahead for DIR or what's in store for Texas. I know I've emphasized executing on the mission, but what I mean by that is implementation and management of what I call managed service delivery. That's things like telecommunications services, data center services, our state Web portal, which is TexasOnline. That's certainly going to be a huge emphasis. I talked earlier about the information and communications technology cooperative contracting program essentially to

pool the purchasing power of the enterprise we call Texas government and leverage that to drive down technology costs. That will certainly be a big initiative, and probably last, enhancing security and privacy management will be another big and targeted initiative for us.

What are the biggest challenges facing Texas, and how do you think technology can be used to address those?

One of our key goals in the state is to provide citizens greater access to government services while reducing service delivery costs. We continue to highlight effective, efficient and accountable government operations. So it's citizen access - or greater access - to services, reducing operational costs and highlighting accountable government. I think that plays into the sweet spot of technology and how technology can be integrated into business operations. I think technology plays a very significant role in providing greater access to government services 24 by 7, but also reducing the cost of government, and I think technology and innovation are well positioned to facilitate agencies in obtaining that goal.

You mentioned innovation as a focus. What areas are particularly ripe for IT innovation?

My goal in the context of innovation would be to establish Texas as a leader in the country in three areas - government-to-business initiatives, government-to-government initiatives and government-to-citizen initiatives. Those are obviously three areas ripe for innovation in my mind.

When we talk about government-to-business initiatives like TexasOnline, our official Web portal for the state and our official e-transaction Web site, we have a very successful implementation in our current effort. We are on the verge of rebidding that effort, and along with the rebid, our expectation is that will give us a wonderful opportunity to continue to evolve and innovate what I consider to be a national leader and our government-to-citizen initiative. So TexasOnline will certainly be a big initiative there.

In terms of government-to-government initiatives, we have a plethora of things. A good example would be our shared service delivery initiatives, and again TexasOnline would certainly fit in there as well. Also, our cooperative contracting program is very, very, very significant. We have close to 350 technology contracts that are part of that program today. We're expecting this fiscal year to do somewhere north of $950 million through those contracts. Those contracts serve not only Texas state agencies, but the full Texas enterprise: city governments, K-12, higher ed.

When we talk about government-to-government initiatives, it's technology initiatives, supply-chain management, cooperative contracting, and leveraging the purchasing power of the state to drive prices for all of our eligible public-sector organizations in the state, and hopefully improving service levels for those organizations.

How is the data center consolidation project progressing?

Thirty state government data centers across 27 agencies were in the scope of the data center consolidation initiative. There were 30 data centers that accounted for more than 5,000 servers in the state. There were around a dozen mainframes, a significant volume of print and mail operations were in the scope of the initiative, and more than 500 state staff were involved in the operations of those 30 data centers. So it's a very significant initiative.

The data center consolidation project ultimately will take those 30 data centers across 27 agencies and transform them into two data centers: a data center in San Angelo, Texas, as well as a data center in the Austin area. We're also moving from what I would call varying levels of security, disaster recovery and service levels that are currently part of those 30 data centers that exist today into an environment where we have consistent measured high levels of security, disaster recovery and service levels through those two data centers. And we're moving from multiple contracts across those 30 data centers into one single contract that's based on consumption pricing, so we're moving from an

asset ownership environment in the state - as far as data centers are concerned - to a consumption model.

DIR manages the delivery of data center services to the 27 agencies as the holder of the master contract. In other words, a master contract exists between the vendor - we call it the IBM team for Texas - and the DIR. As the contract owner, the DIR is the single throat to choke, so to speak, for participating government organizations. We are fully accountable to the 27 state agencies that are part of the deal today.

There were really four major phases to get us where we are today. First and foremost, coming out of the legislative session two years ago enabling legislation, HB 1516, which has gotten some national attention.

The second major phase was a procurement phase. That was an 18-month process - the development of the solicitation, review of the proposals and execution of contract. It was driven by DIR, but we had very high levels of participation by all 27 state agencies that were involved.

The third major phase was the one we just got through - legislative funding. We have a biennial legislature in Texas, which just concluded, and a big part of our role in this project over the last five months - 140-day legislative session - was to secure funding for the contract. Now, we're in the phase you guys want to talk about, which is contract execution. We did execute the contract in late November 2006. We commenced services, or the IBM team for Texas commenced services, at midnight on March 31.

In the implementation of the project, there are three major phases. There's what I call an agency transition phase, which is occurring right now. There's a transformation phase, and then there'll be a consolidation phase.

So the agency transition phase is the turnover of systems and assets to the vendor team, as well as the transition of state staff to the vendor team. A number of state staff were transitioned to the vendor. That's all been occurring since the March 31 commencement.

Starting this summer, we move into the second major phase: the transformation. The IBM team has actually taken over the operations of the 30 agency data centers at those data center locations. The transformation phase is really the implementation of consistent processes and tools and metrics across those 30 data centers and the 27 agencies, so that's occurring as we speak and will occur over the next year or so.

And ultimately, probably in parallel with the transformation phase, is the consolidation phase. That's the consolidation of the 30 data centers into two data centers. We're going to be implementing in two data centers a single command center, and that's where the optimization - and I'm talking about the financial savings but also operational efficiencies and improved service levels, improved security, improved disaster recovery - really gets traction. That will occur starting this summer and over the next at least 18 months.

Individual agency data centers will be consolidating into those two data centers in a waved approach. It's not a big bang; it's very well thought out, very disciplined, very methodical. Those data centers will be consolidated one-by-one over the next 18 months.

So you've got a lot of agencies that are transitioning from owning and operating computing assets to becoming consumers of services.

Yes absolutely. It's a huge paradigm shift in that agencies had independent authority and ultimately ownership of those assets and ownership of those facilities, and that model has shifted significantly to a consumption mindset, a consumption model.

That changeover must really put a premium on your agency's contract management skills once this is all in place.

It does, but I will tell you, it really is

in my mind all about governance. We are the holders of the master contract, but we are accountable to the 27 agencies. We have put a lot of effort and thought into agency governance - I'm talking about the 27 agencies' governance around this contract. We have what we call a data center services advisory team, which has as its members the CIOs for each of the 27 agencies currently participating in this deal. So the highest level of IT directors in those agencies are members of this advisory team, and, in fact, the advisory team is chaired by a participating agency. DIR is an ex officio member. The advisory team engages on a biweekly, if not more frequent, basis to help govern and drive their requirements through this contract.

So the management structure was designed to make this the agencies' project, not DIR's project?

Absolutely, we are here to meet their business needs. It is a utility computing model, and we are now very much integrated, through this contract, into the business operations of each of these 27 agencies. And this is not just limited to the 27 agencies. We have 27 agencies that were statutorily required to be part of this, but the contract is written to be open to any eligible public-sector entity in Texas. We have more than 4,000 public-sector entities in Texas - about 150 Texas state agencies and the rest are local governments and K-12 - and any eligible public-sector entity can at some point in the future join the contract. Volume consumption is going to drive prices down for everybody.

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