Turning Around Tennessee IT

Crafting an IT strategy and boosting satisfaction are among recent retiree's accomplishments.
Bill Ezell reflects on his 20-year tenure with the state of Tennessee.

On August 1, my 20-year career as a state of Tennessee employee drew to a close. My retirement also marked the end of a 42-year career in information technology.

Knowing I wanted to retire in a few years, I accepted the position as CIO for the state in early 2004 after realizing that there were some things I still wanted to accomplish before closing the door on this phase of my life.

The strategic IT plan that I inherited contained all the requisite buzzwords and verbosity, a professional presentation and more goals/strategies than could be accomplished in a lifetime. After deep-sixing this plan, a subset of our senior management team immediately drafted a real-world plan with a limited number of goals. A director or executive director was assigned the responsibility and authority to achieve each goal and a timeframe for completion was established.

This gave us a plan that we could perform against and use to give customers a view of where the state was going with its use of IT. This plan is updated quarterly to reflect achievements and add new goals.

Improving Service

In addition to crafting a strategic plan, I encountered another challenge: The central IT organization I was taking over had lost its customer-service focus. The Office for Information Resources had adopted a mentality that made it appear self-serving and generated a myriad of complaints at the highest levels of government officials.

Shortly after assuming my position, I contracted with a consultant from the private sector to design a customer- service training seminar for our management team. We trained 75 managers, and they then shared the precepts of our customer-service strategy with their respective groups so that all 500-plus members of the IT organization were challenged to adopt a customer-focused perspective in their daily routines.

Building for the Future

Another challenge I had to contend with was Tennessee’s aging IT infrastructure. The state’s data center is almost 20 years old and was built when virtually all the state’s computing was mainframe-based. With increased deployment of n-tier applications, grid computing, server virtualization and storage area networks, the data center isn’t designed to house current technol­ogy and has limited disaster recovery capabilities.

These factors have spurred plans to build two geographically separated data centers. Each one will run about 50 percent of the production load. If one data center goes down, the mission-critical applications will fail over to the other data center. The legislature recently approved up to $68 million in funding for the project, and both new centers should be up and running by 2010.

In addition to crafting a strategic IT plan, embracing customer service and selling the state on a new data center, there have been many other IT successes in Tennessee during my tenure as CIO. All were possible because of the tremendous team of public servants in the central IT organization and their peers throughout the more than 50 agencies that compose our customer base. I leave them all with the satisfaction of knowing that the best years are still ahead for the efficient and effective use of IT to deliver services to the citizens of our great state.

Core Tennessee Tenets

Ezell relied on these values to shape the Tennessee Office for Information Resources under his leadership:

  • Trust: A basic belief that we are all working for the good of the citizens of our state and that each of us can be trusted to do our best.
  • Integrity: Simply doing what is right and never having to be concerned about answering for some questionable action.
  • Respect: A basic caring for one another and our customers across state government.
Sep 26 2007