Future of North Carolina IT office rests with Legislature
RALEIGH, N.C. — In a year, North Carolina’s information technology agency could look a lot different.
The Office of Information Technology Services, which currently sits within the governor’s office, could become a cabinet-level department, if provisions included in a draft of the state’s budget proceed out of a conference session between the state House and Senate.
“To restructure IT or to not restructure IT, that is the question,” North Carolina State Chief Information Officer Chris Estes told StateScoop last week. “We have to wait until the budget is approved to know the final position.”
The Senate bill would create a standalone IT department and would call on the governor to appoint a secretary of technology to manage it. The House’s version leaves ITS as an agency within the governor’s office, according to Estes. Transitioning ITS from an office to a department is estimated to cost about $10 million over several years, officials said in January.
Discussions about restructuring the office originally stemmed from a report released by ITS last year that recommended the state develop a more unified plan for its IT and give the state CIO more authority. That report stemmed from a request of ITS in a 2013 Appropriations bill. Already, Gov. Pat McCrory has endorsed the idea of a Department of Information Technology.
“We’ve found that the piecemeal approach we’ve taken during the past decade for information technology has had disastrous results,” McCrory said in his state of the state address in February. “My administration is going to insert accountability into IT operations by working with the General Assembly to establish a new cabinet-level Department of Information Technology.”
In 2013, McCrory signed an executive order to establish the OneIT Executive Leadership Team, which was designed to meet regularly to modernize the state’s IT operating model. The order also required the state CIO to work alongside each cabinet agency CIO to develop a strategy that would unite state IT departments whenever possible. Making ITS a cabinet-level department brings that executive order one step further, Estes said.
“We fortunately have a governor that gets IT and understands its importance to enable the customer service he envisions for the citizens.” Estes said.
Estes said he also supported creating an IT department. The new structure would give the IT team greater access to officials who make purchasing and funding decisions, putting Estes’ staff in a better position to justify investments in innovative projects, he said. For example, he wants to create more programs like the state’s iCenter, housed at the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, that allows workers to test out new vendor products.
But in the end, Estes said his main goal is to enact whatever the Legislature decides when it passes the final budget. Even if it does not transition into a cabinet-level department, ITS will continue to innovate — and fight to remain relevant, he said.
“Our big focus is to support the General Assembly and see what decisions they make,” Estes said. “We’re trying to make innovation a part of our culture. We as IT people need to move closer to the world or we will be irrelevant. The industry is changing too much, too fast.”
Editor’s Note: This story was updated to indicate that the office’s cost to restructure was $10 million instead of $300 million. The story was also updated to clarify that the iCenter is a governor’s office initiative that is housed inside the state Department of Environment and Natural Resources.