Sun Shines Bright on Kentucky's IT
State Initiatives Are Likely Benchmarks for Others
By John Makulowich
Quietly and consistently, Kentucky is forging ahead with IT initiatives that are more than likely to show up in other states in a few years.
The capital of Kentucky at Frankfort
Witness its rank as the second-largest Microsoft Exchange network in the world with 40,000 users. That base includes the entire public school system as well as 13,000 users in state government.
Or note that in 1994, the Bluegrass State was the first to outsource its network backbone, a move since followed by Georgia, Ohio and soon Tennessee. That's led to an annual savings of $2 million in data line costs alone and the creation of a 130-site videoconferencing network.
Less heralded but still a significant milestone is the move to a completely electronic government, begun in March 1996.
"Two years ago I sent out a memo reinforcing that we will practice what we preach," said Douglas Robinson, executive director for the Kentucky Information Resources Management Commission in Frankfort. "Among other things, it meant only electronic distribution of government documents, whether [they are] proclamations or policy papers or news releases." All these documents can be found on the state's Web site (www.state.ky.us/kirm/ kirmhome.htm).
His group, a 12-member independent state agency, coordinates information resources and applications in Gov. Paul Patton's programs and handles statewide IT policy and strategic plans. Even the process by which agencies submit their information technology plans every two years is completely automated, replete with plan collection, template distribution and completion and commission review.
"Kentucky recently passed legislation that allows videoconferencing to substitute for an open public meeting [for all state bodies] without restriction," Robinson said. "If one of the commissioners cannot attend a meeting, and I can bring him or her in with videoconferencing, then that counts toward the quorum needed to transact business."
The state also recently passed legislation on digital signatures that allows their use on a level with written forms. As Robinson noted, technology is way out in front of policy.
Overall, the state's strategic direction for IT is an enterprise-based Internet protocol environment of open standards and architecture, seen in the decision to settle on one e-mail system for the entire state.
Steering the IT ship at the highest level is Aldona Valicenti, appointed the state's first CIO this past January. A 10-year veteran of Amoco Corp., the former manager of customer solutions now is focusing on re-engineering the basic business processes in the state, a $90 million effort. She also oversees a related IT effort called "Empower Kentucky," which could save the state $700 million over the next seven years.
According to Valicenti, the thrust for re-engineering came from Patton, who has been in office 1 1/2 years and who wanted to make government more efficient.
"The focus on re-engineering basic business processes and empowering Kentucky across all departments and all executive cabinets spawned a lot of IT work, which probably did not exist before at the same intensity and level," Valicenti said.
Like many other public and private sector CIOs, she finds that her main challenge is to rethink how IT is deployed. Practically, that amounts to moving business processes out of individual departments and across cabinets and agencies.
"The state was working with more of a
centralized model, that is, dispersed departments in contention with each other. The governor recognized the need for a focal point and a CIO position," Valicenti said. "Because of the Kentucky infrastructure, the position had to be established through the legislature. After the bill was drafted, accepted and passed, the CIO now exists as an executive-level office."
She characterizes the task ahead as a transformation process, determining what should remain and what should change. A design team is in place and her office is gathering information from individual cabinets and agencies.
"Efficiency is certainly one of our aims, figuring out what we need to share beyond what we share already," Valicenti said. "The network infrastructure is consolidated and we have in place server farms, disaster recovery systems and data standardization initiatives. We need to address the issue of future systems, probing whether the architecture needs to be more robust and engaged as well as the best way to support new systems."
Valicenti details four lessons learned so far:
A lot of work needs to be done in the public sector to lay the groundwork for any program or initiative.
"In Kentucky, that groundwork was laid first from a business perspective. You still need the burning platform. Otherwise, there won't be change. There needs to be a sense of urgency, one that drives the whole process of looking at IT processes and how we deliver services," Valicenti said.
The transformation that must take place for IT initiatives to be successful is technical, organizational and cultural. She says that to change cultures generally takes about seven years.
"Sometimes we don't have the same urgency in government as we do in the private sector, for example, about customer service. A key issue is how to get that message across and understood very clearly among those you are working with," she said.
You have to learn from the private sector, recognizing that some parts of government work are very similar in the private sector.
"Our constituents, the citizens of Kentucky, think of themselves that way and will demand better services. Technology is the easy end of it," she said.
There are usually more stakeholders in the government than in private industry. They may not have the same goals or views of the mission.
That is, the judicial, executive and legislative branches are not always attuned to each other. Overall, the base of stakeholders is broader and more diverse in government than in the private sector," Valicenti said.