North Carolina is now consolidating its IT operations in an effort to allay growing concerns about the cost and management of state tech projects.
Last week, North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed a budget last week that made the state’s IT agency a cabinet-level department. The state Office of Information Technology Service will now be known as the Department of Information Technology. The transformation represents the culmination of two years of work by Chief Information Officer Chris Estes and his staff to develop what he calls a “single authority” for IT in North Carolina.
“Fortunately, I’ve worked for a governor that understands that IT is an important part of delivering his vision for the state of North Carolina and the citizens of North Carolina,” Estes told StateScoop.
The governor ordered Estes to conduct a review of the state’s IT operations. Estes found that North Carolina’s efforts were overly fragmented — IT staff were scattered throughout the various state agencies without any sort of overarching organization and each department was responsible for its own IT spending.
McCrory railed against that inefficiency in his state of the state address in February, claiming that 74 percent of the state’s IT projects “have come in over budget and behind schedule.” He proposed a restructuring of IT operations, and when he signed the budget bill on Sept. 18, that vision became a reality.
The bill calls for the governor to name a state CIO to head up the new department, and it seems Estes will remain in that job — Estes said McCrory has informed him that he’ll be appointed to the role in the coming days.
That means that Estes will be confronted with the task of heading up the mammoth transition, as the state consolidates 2,200 IT professionals and hundreds of state applications under one roof.
“It’s a pretty large business transformation,” Estes said. “We have to kind of keep the applications running today that the agencies use and then migrate to this new operating model. So we’ll do it carefully, well-planned and over a period of time so that we make sure we maintain our services to the citizens.”
Estes said his first step will be assembling transition teams that include a variety of IT staff involved in the move. Those groups will then be charged with mapping out how the various services will move under the direction of the new department over the next few months.
“We might start with procurement and move all the IT procurement capability into the organization, then we might move to security or enterprise architecture,” Estes said. “The items that are unique to the agencies, the business applications, will remain with someone that works for us that will be responsible for those applications. So they’ll continue to get the customization they need.”
The process will likely take years, according to Estes, because “we’ve just been given the authority” to start the changeover. Yet the department will have financial support from the Legislature for the transition — the bill guarantees Estes’ staff $3.53 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year and $3.74 million in 2016-17.
Even though the transition may take a lot of time and money, Estes believes it holds the key to helping McCrory realize his vision for the state’s government.
“He needs IT to make government easier to do business with,” Estes said. “He has a vision that people should be able to conduct transactions with state government much like they shop on their smartphone or check the scores.”
Now that the supervision and hiring of IT staff is moving under Estes’ purview, the CIO feels confident he can help the governor achieve that goal by getting the people in place he needs to make the government more technologically savvy.
“We need more IT professionals than we have today,” Estes said. “Part of my vision is to make sure that we can retain the ones that we have and create a competitive program for those professionals in the state of North Carolina so they see that IT is an employment destination.”