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ND Gov. Calls for Cybersecurity Funding, Centralization in Budget

Doug Burgum, the former Microsoft executive turned governor, is asking for $174 million for 24 IT infrastructure projects and $16.4 million for cybersecurity consolidation efforts in his budget proposal.

(TNS) — With his software background, Gov. Doug Burgum's technology proposals may be one of the more interesting areas of his budget plan — especially given what's facing North Dakota's cybersecurity.

As part of his $1.5 billion plan for road, water and other infrastructure for 2019-21, the former Microsoft executive has proposed $174 million in 24 information technology projects for 19 state agencies, ranging from voter security to health care to a new driver's license system.

"It's as important of infrastructure as anything we're doing. It's just what you need for this 21st century infrastructure," Burgum said.

But also in the budget: improving cybersecurity — which could be key in the coming session as the state faces 5.6 million cyberattacks a month, such as ransomware and even malware from North Korea.

Cyber chase

State Chief Information Officer Shawn Riley said the IT proposals have three goals: lowering costs, improving cybersecurity and streamlining online services for an "Amazon experience."

Burgum's budget asks for $16.4 million to undertake a "centralized" approach to cybersecurity, recommending 145 full-time employees from 17 cabinet agencies form one IT service.

Riley said the proposal would better defend the statewide network, which sees about 252,000 daily users.

IT "unification" and cybersecurity stand as the top two tech priorities, according to Riley. His department has led a "unification" project to group state websites on one platform — so far serving 26 state agencies, saving more than $500,000, he said. Burgum has said North Dakota agencies have more than 160 websites.

"Unification helps us bring systems together, helps us inventory systems, helps us do work processes together — tons and tons of things that really are necessary from a strategy standpoint," Riley said.

IT talk

Rep. Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, who chaired the interim IT Committee, said legislators may emphasize priority IT projects and ones that will leverage federal or special funds.

A "big picture" approach to IT proposals will help develop the ultimate plan, he added — but it's more than adding staff. What's the vision?

"If we measure all FTEs and requested changes together — and adopt at least some unification practices — I believe fully funding our cyber security needs is completely possible this legislative session," Mock said in an email.

State Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City, has served on the interim IT Committee since it organized and said IT issues "have increased significantly" over the years.

Part of the solution is the recruiting and retention of full-time IT staff, he added, which can prove difficult, given turnover.

Riley said his team has been meeting with lawmakers to discuss the state's cyber situation: "People can react better once they know the scope of the problem."

But some IT issues will likely remain on the sidelines this session. Given uncertain state revenues, North Dakota's judiciary didn't ask for a $2.1 million update to its juvenile case management system from 1999.

State Court Administrator Sally Holewa said the system remains "on our to-do list."

Burgum's background

Before he was governor, Burgum chartered a business career, starting with Great Plains Software in 1983, which Microsoft acquired in 2001 for $1.1 billion.

He left Microsoft in 2007 after six years and went on to campaign for governor in 2016 on a message of technological innovation and "reinventing" government.

"I think where the governor's background, in this sense, comes in is that his technology background gives him a different view of how we can take technology and really mobilize it and use it as an innovator to create efficiency," Riley said.

Mock and Robinson each said Burgum's expertise could be an "asset" to state government.

"I hope we extend him and his team a certain level of trust as we work to develop a shared vision for state government," Mock said.

"I think his insight into the needs here are important," Robinson said. "And yet, the governor's budget is a blueprint. It's a beginning, it's not the end."

©2018 The Bismarck Tribune (Bismarck, N.D.).  Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.