How the Beaver State is Modernizing IT Enterprise

When it comes to IT modernization, one of the most frequently cited challenges for state and local governments is modernizing legacy applications. The state of Oregon is no exception. But even though the Beaver State might be dealing with these common challenges, there are many IT improvements and innovations underway.

In an interview with GovLoop, Oregon Chief Technology Officer, Tony Black, shared the state’s progress in terms of modernizing state IT infrastructure and working toward data center consolidation. Specifically, Black cited modernization efforts underway for the tax system, motor vehicles, Medicaid eligibility, child support, law enforcement, and human capital management.

“We are in the execution phase for many different legacy system upgrades right now,” Black said.

Take the Oregon Child Support System Project, for example. The state’s current child support system remains completely federally certified and is in compliance with state laws and regulations. However, the IT system was one of the oldest in the nation, using applications designed back in the 1970s.

The state decided to modernize and improve its technology in order to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of caseworkers and deliver the best possible services to Oregon families. The project kicked off in 2015 and work is proceeding as state staff collaborate with contractors to develop a state-of-the-art computer system. The first rollout of the new system is expected to begin in late 2018 with updated software to help staff work directly with nearly 250,000 families who use Oregon’s services.

In addition to improving citizen services, Black shared how the state is working toward consolidation. “We have a state data center that we built in 2006,” Black said. “It was initially populated by 11 agencies and that number has increased over time. We then virtualized the environment and are now running a converged infrastructure.  We are working to continually expand the number of agencies we serve from this facility.”

Enterprise Technology Services (ETS) staff operate the state data center and are responsible for developing innovative infrastructure and computing solutions aimed at automating the business operations that support Oregon constituent services. The operations of ETS are guided by a governance structure that ensures business drives key decisions regarding IT infrastructure.

The infrastructure components supported by ETS include local and wide area network connectivity, storage management, computer hosting, solutions engineering, account management, and disaster recovery. Consumers of ETS services include partners (consumers who rely exclusively on all services provided by ETS) and clients (consumers who rely on only selected ETS services).

As ETS continues to expand, Black sees cost efficiency, better services for customers and heightened security as the primary benefits. “It’s a cost savings measure as well as efficiency in operations,” he said. “This data center is monitored and staffed 24/7.  From a data availability and security perspective, it is certainly the best state-owned facility we have in Oregon.”

As for Black’s advice to other states undergoing their IT modernization efforts, he recommended these strategies:

-Include your vendor community. Get wins faster using agile development rather than traditional waterfall approaches.

-Establish needed relationships, partnerships, and effective governance first.

-Communicate broadly.

Knowledge sharing has been a powerful strategy in IT modernization for the state. Oregon Association of Government Information Technology Management, for example, is a group of IT executives from state agencies, cities, counties, councils of government and education. The group’s mission is to improve the management of information systems and other technologies supporting the services provided to citizens by Oregon governments. This is done through collaborative relationships between and among Oregon governments at multiple levels.

“We have conferences twice each year which proves to be valuable in knowing who is doing what around the state and to have the opportunity to share information and solutions,” Black said.

“We’re also partnering with the higher education communities, K-12 education, local governments and tribes to share broadband solutions for all of these different organizations,” he added.

As Oregon continues to work toward modernization and centralization, strong partnerships, planning and knowledge sharing will be the foundation of such efforts. Collaboration in the public and private sector is key and, though modernization can take time, the benefits are surely worthwhile for government and citizens.

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