Like many other states, North Carolina had a serious silo problem. Between the different layers of local government IT administration and subagency IT management, there were lots of nooks and crannies for IT waste, inefficiency and lack of delivery.
A 2013 audit of the state’s IT operations found that “74 percent of IT projects were being delivered a year late and over budget,” according to a report from GovTech. Those findings led Gov. Pat McCrory to direct then–North Carolina CIO Chris Estes to revamp and centralize the state’s IT operations under a single department: One IT.
The state has been ambitious in its goals, but is taking its time and absorbing employees and responsibilities across the state gradually. It has a large footprint to account for, with 40-plus data centers and over 2,000 staff.
“As we looked at the operating model, we wanted to make sure that we met the following goals: simple and reliable service delivery, standardization, cost efficiency, centralization of control — while retaining strategic focus,” said current North Carolina CIO Keith Werner at the 2016 North Carolina Digital Summit.
While it won’t be easy bringing everything under one roof, Werner believes the long-term payoff is worth the short-term inconvenience.
“To achieve Gov. McCrory’s vision that I mentioned earlier, it involves ensuring that we are accountable and efficient with governance and management of IT across the state, and we believe this will be accomplished through this restructure,” he said, according to GovTech.
Along with statewide IT consolidation and centralization, another thing that North Carolina implemented after its 2013 audit was the state’s Innovation Center. The iCenter, as it’s called, allows the state to test and prototype different technologies. Some of the technologies piloted at the center are built and developed by well-known industry vendors, but other tech innovations come from unexpected sources — such as college students.
In March this year, the iCenter hosted a group of students from North Carolina A&T State University as they demonstrated cybersecurity software called the Malware Cyber Analysis and Advisement Tool (MalwareCAAT).
“I’m thrilled to have the Department of Information Technology collaborating with one of our North Carolina universities to test such important technology for the state and its citizens,” said Werner, in a press release. “This is exactly the kind of collaboration and innovation we hoped to encourage by establishing the Innovation Center.”
California has followed a similar suit as it opened its own innovation lab earlier this summer. Not only does the state want outsiders coming with new ideas, but California leadership wants to encourage ideation and innovation internally among its various state departments.
“It will open new doors to very innovative thinking,” said Scott Gregory, deputy director of the Office of Digital Innovation and Technology Engagement, in a recent StateTech article. “A department can team up with another department to develop a proof-of-concept to solve a shared organizational issue.”
The examples set forth by North Carolina and California show that while centralization and consolidation are often done to reduce costs and make more efficient purchases, states can simultaneously make sure that this centralization doesn’t create an echo chamber that becomes devoid of fresh thinking or agile prototyping.