While plenty of state governments talk about the need to modernize and adapt to the agile, cloud-based, distributed model of IT that is currently dominant in the private sector, not many states have managed to make that leap in IT operations.
But don’t tell that to Texas.
In September, the state’s Department of Information Resources (DIR) proudly launched its cloud services marketplace, making it the first state in the country to do so, according to a report from MeriTalk.
“My biggest goal is to meet the technology needs of our customers so they can deliver services to citizens as efficiently and quickly as possible,” said Texas CIO Todd Kimbriel, in the MeriTalk story.
The cloud services marketplace essentially allows state agencies in Texas to purchase and deploy public cloud resources from the state. They do so at their leisure and have a choice of platforms.
“We’re gonna allow agencies to choose: Do I want fully managed services in the consolidated data center? Or do I want semi-managed services in the consolidated data center? Do I want fully managed services in the public cloud? Or do I want semi-managed services in the public cloud?,” says Sally Ward, director of data center services for Texas DIR.
The choice is embedded into the purchasing process, and there are solution architects on hand to vet and follow up in the event that the question asked becomes more complex.
“When an agency wants to deploy a server, we ask the question: Tell us your operating system. And when they tell us the operating system, we pop back to them three different options with cost,” says Ward. “They can get to the very bottom and they can look from a cost basis to see which one is the cheapest option for them. It also asks them about the type of data they’re trying to put in the cloud.”
So how did Texas get to the place where it could allow its state agencies to procure and deploy cloud services on demand? Ward says it all started by listening to the demands and needs of their internal agencies.
“Our customers were needing faster, cheaper services. That’s what their complaint at the time was, that building a server takes too long,” she says. “We went through this process and said if we could have a hybrid cloud where we could connect our consolidated data centers to public clouds, both government and commercial clouds, then we could really do a hybrid model where agencies could make the best use of compute that meets their budget and the compliance required of government.”
And that’s when the lightbulb moment hit: “Why don’t we become that cloud provider and provide that capability for our customers?” says Ward.
As Texas DIR set up this system, they made sure to keep state agencies involved. As several states are undergoing major IT consolidation and centralization efforts, many state agencies under the umbrella IT organization fear that such moves erase their voice and influence on IT purchasing. But Texas has a process that requires state agency input and involvement, and also offers flexibility in the degree of managed services needed.
One major way the state has managed to avoid this disconnect between the centralized state IT department and the subagency is by rejecting the advisory council setup.
“The advisory council model is only a license to complain,” Ward says. “Our model is all problem solving. We can take 30 agencies and have a representational model so there are voices at the agency when decisions are made.”
In January, Texas is preparing to extend the connection of its public cloud marketplace to its two consolidated data centers, which will enable the state to offer hybrid cloud services to its agencies in addition to public cloud options. To date, DIR has 30 agencies onboard with its Data Center Services program, which grants access to the cloud marketplace.
Getting to a place where state agencies are even comfortable with operating in the cloud has been a lengthy process, but one that has paid off in the long run.
“In the state government world, we spent the past 10 years convincing our customers that they don’t have to have a server on site,” says Ward.
But as a state government IT leader, getting to the place where the Lone Star State is leading in IT innovation fills Ward with a sense of pride and accomplishment.
“We’re really quite a trailblazer in the country,” she says.