Webb Takes Assertive Tack in MoldingNorth Carolina's IT

Webb Takes Assertive Tack in Molding
North Carolina's IT

Rick Webb,
North Carolina's chief information officer
North Carolina Chief Information Officer Rick Webb is pushing hard to reshape the way the state manages its information technology business. His approach to overseeing North Carolina's $180 million annual information technology budget is to run the things much like a business.

Shortly after signing on as the state's first CIO in September, Webb began revamping North Carolina's IT structure to streamline operations and improve service to the citizens. Webb, 43, previously served as the state's assistant secretary of commerce and president of the North Carolina Partnership for Economic Development.

He spoke about recent changes in the state's technology infrastructure in an interview with Washington Technology staff writer Andrea Novotny.

WT: What changes have been implemented since your appointment in September?

WEBB: We consolidated our technology operations into three key areas: computing services, telecommunication services and business technology services. It's an integrated approach with all the different sections of our operations working together.

Now, we are more easily able to develop a service plan and provide agencies information about those services. This approach also allows us to more easily view our services in a business context and decide what solutions will work best.

WT: What is the greatest challenge facing your agency in executing new technology initiatives?

WEBB: The Information Technology Services Division is a cost-recovery agency. With the exception of year 2000 [software conversion efforts] and the North Carolina Information Highway, we do not get direct appropriations from the general assembly.

We operate on a business plan, and our revenues are generated from the services we provide. For example, we run the state telephone network and bill roughly $6 million a month in long-distance telephone charges.

WT: What IT initiatives is North Carolina undertaking to improve service to its citizens?

WEBB: We have just announced a high-level working group made up of state employees and representatives from the private sector that will develop a blueprint for our state's electronic commerce initiative. That effort will include digital signatures, security and Web site development.

We hope to have a framework and a plan of action in place by December. Already, we have in place a statewide architecture that puts a framework around technology. We are building a component to that architecture under our electronic commerce initiative.

WT: Many of the state's IT initiatives are geared to increasing access to information. What is the state doing to guard its information from security breaches?

WEBB: Security policy runs hand in hand with electronic commerce. We have an ongoing network security initiative to develop ways to protect the state's information. We are in the process of implementing the basic policies on that issue.

WT:Has it been a challenge getting the state's 23 agencies to share data?

WEBB: North Carolina's agencies operate autonomously. We are working on a data standards initiative to establish a set of uniform procedures on how data will be used by state and other government agencies. This initiative will help facilitate data sharing. We have targeted two areas: definitions stemming from year 2000 projects and definitions of Social Security numbers. We expect the project to be completed by June 1999.

WT: What is the state doing to expand the North Carolina Information Highway, a major IT initiative that has been under way for the past two years?

WEBB: The North Carolina Information Highway is a centralized, statewide telecommunications network that provides state and local governments access to high-speed video and data exchange.

So far we have 140 video sites across the state. We are planning to add 65 new distance learning sites, and we expect that number to grow.

WT:How would you characterize your philosophy of IT management for the state?

WEBB: We have a strong operation in place, but we are trying to make it even stronger. It's like running an information factory with a research and development section.

Technology is changing fast and requires money to be set aside for the future. This fiscal year, we provided $4.2 million in statewide initiatives from reserve funds. Next fiscal year, which begins July 1, we will be allocating over $3 million from reserve funds.

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