Texas bets on a unified infrastructure

Director of strategic initiatives Dustin Lanier says consolidation could save Texas $25 million by 2007.

Mark Matson

Dustin Lanier knows it won't be easy getting more than 200 agencies to turn over responsibility for their IT infrastructure to the Texas Department of Information Resources when a new state law takes effect Sept. 1.

Texas, in fact, is bucking a trend: Some of the largest states in the nation have been unable to consolidate IT infrastructure and buy IT products and services in volume. Three years ago, the California Information Technology Department closed shop, and last month the Florida State Technology Office shut down less than a year after a statewide outsourcing contract unraveled.

The Texas law, signed June 18 by Gov. Rick Perry (R), gives the department sweeping authority over the statewide IT infrastructure and services. And it could save the state nearly $25 million by 2007, said Lanier, the department's director of strategic initiatives.

New power

The law tackles IT infrastructure and services delivery on many fronts, such as requiring agencies to buy computer hardware and technical services from cooperative contracts negotiated by the department.

It gives the Information Resources Department the power not only to consolidate data center equipment and operations, but also to create so-called state technology centers that would consolidate infrastructure in such areas as network security, electronic grants and telecommunications.

The new law requires agencies to sign contracts with the Department of Information Resources by March 31, 2006, establishing the terms and conditions under which the department will provide data center services to them.

But in any event, the department faces an uphill battle getting agencies to transfer their IT infrastructure resources, according to analysts and industry officials.

The more than 200 independent agencies in Texas state government are accustomed to a substantial degree of autonomy and to negotiating their own terms and conditions for IT products and services, said Len Riley, a senior consultant with the consulting firm Strategic Partnerships Inc. of Austin. The new act 'will be viewed by many agencies as creating a significant change,' he said.

Gary Richardson, director of Texas operations for Northrop Grumman IT of Herndon, Va., agreed.

'It's going to be more difficult to get the agreements in place than to select the vendor to do the data center consolidation,' he said. 'The politics associated with [the agreements] are going to be incredible.'

Lanier and his team aren't waiting for the law to take effect before they get started. They've already established one interagency working group for the statewide technology centers, which include data centers, and another for commodity purchasing.

'We came right out of the gate with these groups [and] are briefing the agencies right now,' Lanier said.

With careful planning and ample communication, Lanier and his colleagues can accomplish their mission, Riley said. 'It's not rocket science.'

To help with the project, Lanier recruited Brian Rawson and Kim Weatherford, both with heavy experience managing agency-level IT in Texas.

'They have a lot of credibility with agencies in terms of having both direct background and logistical experience,' Lanier said.

Before joining Lanier at Information Resources, Rawson was chief information officer for the Texas Education Department, and Weatherford oversaw technology for the Aging and Disability Services and Assistive and Rehabilitative Services departments.

Today, Rawson directs the Service Delivery Division, and Weatherford heads its Statewide Technology Operations Division.

Still, it won't be easy to get agencies to cooperate, even if required to do so by law, analysts and industry officials said. Agencies typically resist efforts to get them to relinquish control, because they fear their power and influence will be reduced if they turn over funds or personnel to another agency, officials said.

'Resistance is a natural thing,' Richardson said. The agencies 'will all have wonderful games they can play and delay tactics they will use to try to resist being included.'

John Kost of Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., said the Texas Legislative Budget Board also will play a key role in enforcing the new rules.

If the budget board helps execute the law through the budget process, 'agencies will be compelled to go along if they want projects and day-to-day IT operations funded,' he said. 'If, on the other hand, the [board] allows too many waivers for reasons that are more political than financial, they will undermine the intent of the legislation and the CTO.'

Vision to reality

Larry Olson, director of the Texas Department of Information Resources and the chief technology officer, has authority to carry out his vision for an enterprise approach to IT set forth in two reports he published last year. The concepts described in those documents are lessons he learned consolidating technology for Pennsylvania and Fortune 500 companies, Lanier said.

The department has started aggregating the purchase of laptops, desktops and servers in configurations that will work across several agencies. But the greatest potential savings will come from consolidating data center operations and outsourcing them to the private sector, he said.

Texas has about 30 facilities performing data center operations around the state. A Gartner study recommended consolidating operations into two facilities: one in Austin and one in San Angelo in West Texas.

The West Texas facility now serves 10 agencies and is run by Northrop Grumman IT through a contract it won more than a decade ago, Richardson said.

The state plans in the next few months to hire a contractor to help with the procurement process for the data center and other projects, Lanier said.

Texas hopes to save $15 million to $25 million over the next two years by selling assets to the company that takes over data center operations and through volume purchasing, Lanier said. Total savings over a five-year period could reach $60 million, he said.

Lanier doesn't expect to issue a request for proposals until after the interagency contracts are signed next March. At that point, 'Texas will know what it wants,' he said.

William Welsh is deputy editor of GCN's sister publication, Washington Technology.

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