California switches to listening mode

No idea is too big or too small; PK Agarwal promises to listen to them all<br>

P.K. Agarwal, who returned to public service as the director of California's new Technology Services Department in September, has a message for the private sector: The department has an open mind about any and all ideas from the IT industry.

Agarwal, a vice president of marketing at Affiliated Computer Services Inc. of Dallas since 2003, has more than 15 years of experience as a CIO in both the public and private sectors. But Agarwal's most recent tour of duty in the private sector gave him a new appreciation for the benefits of public-private collaboration, and sparked his interest in bringing shared efforts to the Golden State.

"Technology companies ought to understand that we are open for business," Agarwal said. "They ought to know that if they have innovative, creative solutions out there, we are eager to listen to them. We know where we want to get to, and we'll need a lot of help from technology companies to get there."

Agarwal's long-term goal is to move the department into a service-provider role, shifting away from its current mission as a commodity technology provider, he said. That change could mean more business opportunities for IT companies, an industry analyst said.

It is unlikely that Agarwal's department will have all the IT competency needed to become a service provider, so he will have to turn to the private sector, said John Kost, managing vice president of worldwide public sector research with the market research firm Gartner Inc., Stamford, Conn.

The shift in California also means that services firms will need to focus more on Agarwal's department and less on other agencies, Kost said.

Over the next 12 months, Agarwal said he wants to award the four modules of Calnet II, the state's billion-dollar contract for telecommunications services. The project was first offered as one contract, but then was split in August into core services, long distance voice, Internet Protocol services and broadband fixed wireless access. Calnet II is scheduled to be awarded in October, 2006.

Agarwal said the department also is about to come out with a proposal to partner with a technology company to further develop the state's Web portal.

"For the Web portal, we are looking at finalizing everything next summer, so we hope to be in the marketplace fairly shortly," Agarwal said.

Creation of the Technology Services Department is a sign that California is back on the road to successful IT management after the state abolished its predecessor, the California Department of Information Technology in 2002, following disclosure of questionable contract award practices by the department. The department consolidates the Stephen P. Teale and Health and Human Services data centers with the General Services Department's Network Services Office.

DTS will share responsibility for California's IT functions with state CIO Clark Kelso. While Kelso will have oversight of policy and strategy, and will report directly to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, DTS and Agarwal will report to the State and Consumer Services Agency and be in charge of running IT operations. But the two entities will work together and be in constant communication through policy and project work groups, Agarwal said.

"We participate in the various governance bodies to make sure that everybody understands what we are doing, and that what we are doing is consistent with what other agencies want to see happen and accordingly the policy gets formulated," he said.

Agarwal said that there will be other opportunities for technology companies to partner with California coming out over the next 12 to 24 months, though he said the department will know much more about the specifics of those opportunities in the next three to five months.

"For a number of services over the next year, we are going to be out there soliciting the private marketplace for partners," he said. "But right now there are a lot of things on the drawing board."

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