Unifying Indiana’s IT efforts: State’s new CTO plans to centralize computing

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Indiana’s state Web portal, access-Indiana, won at least a dozen awards over the last four years. It was frequently lauded as a model of modern government efficiency-robust, reliable and user-friendly.

But, according to new Indiana Chief Technology Officer Karl Browning, the reality was only skin deep. Certainly, accessIndiana is the handsome public face of state information technology. But beneath the surface, there’s a tangled mess of unconnected systems, each managed independently by a separate agency.

Gov. Mitch Daniels, a Republican, hired Browning to help make good on his campaign promise to eliminate waste in state government. Browning, who leads the freshly minted Indiana Office of Technology, will use his cabinet-level authority to unify state government computing.

State Rep. Mike Murphy, R-Indianapolis, is sponsoring legislation to formally bring all Indiana’s executive branch IT under one roof. In the meantime, Browning operates under Daniels’ executive order. Murphy said it’s only common sense for state government, an organization with the equivalent employees and financial resources of a Fortune 500 company, to develop a centralized IT infrastructure.

“It was a god-awful mess,” Murphy said. “Any organization with nearly 40,000 employees, except for the state of Indiana, has moved to that. Hopefully, we’re now moving to the same standards the private sector demands of their providers.”

Until recently, the state Family and Social Services Administration had its own IT department. Ditto the Department of Workforce Development, the Department of Health, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Environmental Management. And so on and so on. Murphy complained specifically about a Bureau of Motor Vehicles IT project that, after eight years and $25 million, was operational in only one branch.

Tunnel vision and territorialism led to repetition and waste, Browning said. Without unified management, agency IT managers were loyal to their agency heads, not to a central authority. Thus, they constantly struggled to increase their own resources, or protect what they already had.

“At the end of the day, if you cut jobs, you cut your power,” Browning said. That’s why department IT directors didn’t step forward [to volunteer savings]. And the IT director who wanted to keep his job was probably pretty loyal to the agency director.”

With more than 3-1/2 decades in IT, Browning has seen the ugly results of territorialism before. He entered the field in 1969 after dropping out of college. He spent much of his career working for Ross Perot’s companies, such as Plano, Texas-based EDS. He’s also served as a senior vice president and chief information officer for locally based Golden Rule Insurance.

“I tell people, and it’s true, that about two-thirds of my time was spent in outsourcing and services with Ross Perot companies, and about one third in insurance with J. Pat Rooney.”

It was Rooney who recommended Browning to Daniels for the state CTO job.

“I’ve had in my history one very unpleasant experience with data processing. I needed the right person in charge. I didn’t have the right person, and in the process I became aware just how valuable that person could be,” Rooney said. “I said to the governor, ‘I think Karl Browning would be a wonderful catch. He would be the right person if you had such a need.'”

Murphy is also convinced Browning is the right choice for the job.

“He has a very deep understanding of how to put together very complicated information technology systems, across broad geographic and operating units,” Murphy said. “It’s no different than a company like EDS, Anthem or Lilly with many business units that need common architecture. It really comes down to one word: leadership.”

Browning is just starting to understand the scope of his challenge. His first job is to figure the lay of the land. He estimates Indiana employs about 800 IT professionals. He can’t yet guess with any confidence how much Indiana is spending on IT.

For example, he knows the Department of Information Technology’s immediate precursor, the Department of Administration’s former Division of Information Technology, had a budget in the low $60 million range. But it likely managed only about 10 percent of the state’s technology, Browning said. All by itself, the enormous FSSA had about the same number of IT employees, and may have spent upwards of $100 million.

“We’re trying to get our arms around the low-hanging fruit first, to deliver the results the governor is committed to delivering the state,” Browning said.

Unified decision-making should enhance Indiana’s IT purchasing power, especially in negotiations with large vendors. But Browning also hopes Indiana’s smaller, local IT vendors will capture a larger portion of the state’s contracts, thanks to his new, centralized approach.

Rather than allow individual agencies to pursue “Taj Mahal” style wholesale systems upgrades, Browning plans to carve most projects into smaller, more manageable slices. Combined with Daniels’ other measures to bias state purchasing toward local companies, Browning expects Indiana’s small IT companies to do well.

Ron Brumbarger, president and CEO of Carmel-based BitWise Solutions Inc., agreed state IT was “long overdue for an overhaul.”

“I’ve had the pleasure of working with Karl Browning when he was at Golden Rule, and found him to be very organized and focused,” Brumbarger said. “Bringing someone with that experience to that post at the state will be most helpful.”

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