Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer recently appointed Lee Allen, a former chief information officer for the state’s human services agency, as the new statewide chief information technology officer, officials confirmed to StateScoop on Thursday.
Allen, who started July 23, filled a hole left by the departure of the previous CITO, Phil Wittmer , who resigned amid a cabinet shakeup earlier this year when Colyer became governor after his predecessor, Sam Brownback, was nominated to a U.S. ambassadorship. Allen said that as part of a “core leadership team” Wittmer assembled, he had worked on several key projects to modernize the state’s IT environment that he now finds himself leading.
The biggest problem greeting Allen in his new role, he said, is advancing a project to outsource Kansas’ four data centers in Topeka to Unisys, either through co-location, private cloud or managed public cloud offerings. Allen said he will meet with the teams doing that work next week for a progress update, but that previously the project had been scheduled to begin in November and be completed within six to nine months.
Kansas’ data center project represents a theme seen across many of its technology projects today to convert the state’s legacy systems to more modern “as-a-service” offerings. In 2015, the state outsourced its mainframe, and Allen’s office is now consolidating front-end, or Tier 1, IT support, a project he was charged with heading as an agency CIO last fiscal year, and that the CITO’s office now has the funding to complete.
As the state migrates more of its technology to as-a-service models, Allen said his team will also need to redesign how the state is structured — teams, skill sets, and official roles will all be examined in the context of a service-based enterprise.
Perhaps most helpfully, Allen said, consolidating support is expected also to give the state new visibility of its operations.
“We’ve never had the ability to truly measure the volume of work that we’re doing in the executive branch here in Kansas because we haven’t had one point that everything’s coming to and certainly not one tool to collect it and measure it,” he said. “So it’s going to provide us with the ability to create metrics, the key performance indicators and do the reporting around those that we need to for our business partners and then develop [service level agreements] for them to hold us accountable for the delivery of services that we’re providing to them.”
In other states, CIOs with visions of IT consolidation and modernization have been thwarted by uncooperative agencies or fickle political landscapes that didn’t recognize the technology office’s authority or the necessity of its mission. In Kansas, the Office of Information Technology Services has been granted enterprise authority, Allen said. But he admitted that, in practice, having that power recognized has yielded mixed results.
“From the governor’s office perspective and previous executive orders, all IT within the executive branch reports through me,” Allen said. “We are doing things today and talking with agency secretaries about other mechanisms to formalize that a little bit better.”
Those talks are designed to clarify the CITO’s role and the state’s reporting structure, he said, and won’t necessarily end up giving his office more power.
Next fiscal year, the big project will be launching a network-as-a-service project, and Allen said he’s looking forward to finishing these foundational infrastructure projects so he can focus on every chief technologist’s ultimate priority.
“The conversation in Kansas has been very much around these as-a-service infrastructure type engagements that we’ve been working on and I want to get those up and running and functioning so we can move the conversation back to how we better drive business value versus just the fundamentals of how we do IT,” Allen said.
And he can type
Allen joined Kansas state government in 2010 and was made CIO of for the Department of Children and Families in 2013 before his role expanded with new responsibilities in 2016. But like many technology leaders in conservative administrations, Allen got his career started through the military.
Spending four years as a single-channel radio operator in the U.S. Army, Allen said he spent very little time operating radios when his superiors discovered he could type at 75 words per minute. They moved him to teletype radio communications.
“Because I could type so well I ended up spending most of my time working in supply rooms or [with] company commander clerks, typing and doing all the work in the office for them,” Allen said. “So I very rarely did my actual job.”
Allen’s technology chops wouldn’t really get tested until he left the military, though. Years later, while working a non-IT position in a warehouse, Allen said he found himself as the de facto IT guy because he was the only person on site who could fix things when people called over the phone with problems.
In 2000, Allen said he took a job with Payless ShoeSource, which is based in Topeka, and worked through IT positions that ranged from managing end-user services and computer operations to data centers and eventually IT service management.
The hint of a future in technology may have first appeared in 1991, while he was still in the Army. Allen said he helped install the first company-level IBM desktop computers at Fort Riley. But his time in the Army, he said, turned out to be more about building character than anything else.
“It didn’t neccesarily develop any technical skill set,” he said, “but it taught me what I could do and what I was capable of and what — if a person put their mind to a task and refused to give up — what they could accomplish. It’s usually more than what they think going into it.”