North Carolina Infotech Chief Executes New Technology Framework

BR orth Carolina might be the home of the famed Research Triangle Park, but the state often faces a reality that isn't always cutting edge. Emilie Schmidt, North Carolina's chief technology officer, is heading the state's effort to implement an information technology architecture that sets out standards

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orth Carolina might be the home of the famed Research Triangle Park, but the state often faces a reality that isn't always cutting edge.

Emilie Schmidt, North Carolina's chief technology officer, is heading the state's effort to implement an information technology architecture that sets out standards that new technology buys must meet. The architecture is the cornerstone of the state's effort to link different agencies and their databases and to provide better services.

But Schmidt also must maintain a balancing act of sorts because much of North Carolina is rural. For some counties, World Wide Web pages and Internet access for local governments and many citizens is still out of reach.

Schmidt spoke recently with Washington Technology staff writer Nick Wakeman about information technology initiatives in North Carolina.

North Carolina Infotech Chief Executes New Technology Framework

WT: What challenges face your state as you implement new information technologies?

SCHMIDT: We have to deal with lots of partners. We are state-funded but county-administered, so our counties are separate and distinct entities from the state, but they are the ones that deliver our services. If you are a company, it would be like your customer service reps work for someone else.

But from a citizen perspective, you think of it as one entity. One of our challenges is to make that look seamless and efficient.

Another challenge is providing customer service that rivals that of the private sector. There is a big move to be on the Web, but North Carolina is a very rural state. There are some counties that don't even have fax machines. So they are not going to be on the Web.

We need to have voice response because the telephone is still the primary communication mechanism. We have to be able to position technology so that everyone can use it.

WT: How can technology help rural parts of the state?

SCHMIDT: We have a school technology program and a statewide [asynchronous transfer mode] network that allows for distance learning. A student [in a rural area] can take a class where we wouldn't have enough population to support a teacher for an advanced physics class for example.

Another area is medicine. We've got a concentration of hospitals in metropolitan areas that can provide remote diagnoses for rural areas.

WT: Describe the architecture you are implementing. How did it start? What will it do?

SCHMIDT: The architecture covers key technology areas. For example, we have a platform architecture that talks about different hardware and operating systems that we will deploy. It talks about clients and servers and standards that need to be complied with.

The architecture works down to state contracts so people can then buy platforms that conform to it. We wanted it to have a practical application instead of just being a list of standards.

Technology can be so vast and overwhelming; the architecture puts a framework around technology.

WT: Why is it important to think about processes and not just data when making information technology decisions?

SCHMIDT: That really gets back to customer service. Some parts of our population have unfortunate circumstances and need to apply for assistance. So we've got different agencies to assist them. When you interact with those agencies in a data-centric model, everyone is collecting the same data. We'll always have separate databases, but we need to look at the process of the citizen coming in and make it more efficient.

If you want to change your address on your driver's license that should be a simple process. If you can change that, you should be able to change your voter registration at the same time.

Then there is internal processing. One of the things we are doing in the architecture is looking at where we rekey into separate systems. We have people doing duplicate data entry, and that introduces all kinds of errors. So we are looking at solutions that will cut down on that.

WT: North Carolina has 23 different agencies. Has it been a challenge getting them to share data?

SCHMIDT: I've spent a lot of time talking with agencies and there are reasons why you don't want everyone to have access to data like driver's license records. That agency doesn't want people just randomly having access. Nobody would want that. So we've got all these databases, not just driver's licenses and vehicle registration, but welfare databases and criminal history databases.

Even if we've got laws like motor-voter and delinquent parent status where you have to share information, people tend to be cautious about how their data is accessed and I think rightly so.

WT: How does having Research Triangle Park help the state, specifically state government?

SCHMIDT: The Research Triangle Park area is a mecca for biotech and high-tech companies. The synergy for learning and collaboration is very high, especially with three universities located in the Triangle [University of North Carolina, NC State and Duke].

State government benefits from the proximity of expertise and availability of technical training. Because many of the people [working in Research Triangle] have a high-tech background, I think it raises the bar for us.

WT: How is the state approaching the year 2000 problem?

SCHMIDT: We have a year 2000 project manager and we are working with Andersen Consulting. Each agency has done their assessment. A year 2000 steering committee meets every other Monday, and we are managing the money to fix the problems through that committee.

WT: How is North Carolina dealing with budget pressures?

SCHMIDT: There are always budget pressures, and technology is looked at as a way to automate things and be more efficient. That is why the architecture is key because we need a plan to really see the benefits.

We've got the year 2000 problem that needs to be solved, but people also recognized that there is going to be a year 2001, so we are trying to position ourselves for that as well. We have had some major projects approved such as statewide voter registration. We also have new systems going in based on decisions from the federal level. Welfare reform is having a tremendous impact on the states.


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