How Nebraska is Driving Change in IT Consolidation

This post is excerpted from GovLoop’s recent guide, Preparing for the Era of Digital Transformation

An Interview With Ed Toner, Chief Information Officer, Nebraska

Digital transformation is all about thinking outside the box. But the payoff is even better when such creativity can help government save money and generate efficiencies. In state and local government, for example, many CIOs intuitively know they could be getting significantly more from their IT environments in terms of cost savings and efficiency. They also recognize the untapped savings potential in IT consolidation.

Although consolidating government data centers and the people who manage them is essential, it’s also very tricky. As a state CIO, you must prove that your ideas are going to work better than the status quo while navigating consistency in messaging, transparency and accountability in the process. States like Nebraska, however, are changing the IT consolidation game through hybrid centralization, where agencies use the apps that are familiar to them and the IT staff manages the backend – think servers and networks.

In an interview with GovLoop, CIO of Nebraska Ed Toner shared the lessons he learned as a fairly new public servant coming into government. With more than 20 years of private industry experience, Toner also discussed how his team successfully implemented hybrid centralization as part of their IT consolidation efforts.

“Change is never easy,” said Toner. “It isn’t any easier in the private sector than the public sector. The biggest challenge is when you’re making change, someone has already put those processes, procedures and structures in place, and you could be stepping on toes.”

But despite such challenges and having only started the job in 2015, Toner has been able to already successfully initiate a hybrid centralization roadmap to consolidate data centers and infrastructure.

Hybrid Centralization

As Toner previously wrote, “[Nebraska’s] decentralized structure has created duplication of tools and resources over time. Even more concerning, it has created an unhealthy competition among IT operations, which interferes with achieving our common goal of a seamless, efficient, customer-centric IT environment.”

Centralization is the consolidation of an organization’s technology resources that, when done correctly, can improve administrative tasks and security, and make data management easier while saving costs. Toner’s hybrid centralization model is consolidation with the yielding of all agency-specific IT functions to the agencies. At the same time, enterprise functions and applications are moved to the central IT group. This allows the agency to maintain autonomy over its application enterprise while leaving the IT grunt work to the experts.

The hybrid centralization model is based on collaborative management between Nebraska’s Office of the CIO (OCIO) and any agency’s IT management. The office performs in enterprise functions, including overseeing a consolidated data center, network and infrastructure operations, procurement reviews and standards and enterprise help-desk support. The agency IT management maintains authority over agency-specific activities and functions, including agency help desk support, agency application development and IT strategy and planning specifically for the agency.

“The OCIO’s core business is making sure the apps are running and that we provide good service,” Toner said. “Our primary focus is the network and servers.”

Nebraska’s Department of Roads, for example, designs roads for the state. It focuses on the core services it provides while Toner and OCIO provide the infrastructure to help the department achieve its business goals. “Roads are their core business,” said Toner. “They have an application that sits on infrastructure that sits on our network within our data center. They pick the application they want and manage it the way they want. I make sure it’s available and responsive from our end.”

Making IT Happen

Toner said starting by creating metrics around infrastructure already in place was especially helpful to enabling hybrid centralization and IT consolidation. A central focal point of these metrics was customer service with self-service portals for internal users (state employees) and citizens.

“I spent the first year making sure my group was following basic standards like Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) and having my service management well-documented,” Toner said. “This included change management, problem management and asset management.” ITIL is a set of detailed practices for IT service management that focuses on aligning IT services with the needs of business. In developing a business-minded IT environment, Toner emphasized the importance of creating reports to monitor the quality of state-offered services.

“In getting ready to launch hybrid centralization, we had to answer one question and be very clear,” Toner said. “What problem are we trying to solve? And how do we provide a more efficient, cost-effective and customer-focused state government? Then we had to make sure it was backed up with facts and guidelines. I then used the reports and metrics to check exactly how we were doing on a monthly basis and then give those to the governor.”

In addition to documenting metrics, Toner emphasized the importance of documenting the wins of IT consolidation. “By documenting wins you can also continue them as best practices,” Toner said. “Because if you don’t have those wins continuously throughout the process, excitement dwindles. You need to have consistent wins.”

So far, the hybrid centralization project is providing many wins for Nebraska. The project has cut some rates by as much as 20 percent with faster service and increased efficiencies, and has eliminated 70 servers so far through consolidation.

Best Practices

In addition to laying the groundwork through metrics and documentation and communicating successes, Toner’s biggest piece of advice to other state IT leaders is to care about IT consolidation more than anyone else. “That’s the only way you can get buy-in,” he said. “Don’t give up and keep persevering.”

For any state government, IT consolidation is no easy feat, but hybrid centralization is a way to help cut costs and drive efficiency while fostering collaboration among state entities.

Although hybrid centralization is no silver bullet to IT consolidation, Toner’s commitment to digital transformation in Nebraska’s IT environment demonstrates how hybrid centralization can create big wins for state IT environments and digital transformation for government.

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