Enterprise stretches deep into heart of Texas

Enterprise stretches deep into heart of Texas

IT chief opens territories of telemedicine, e-commerce, lawmaking and more

By Trudy Walsh

GCN Staff

Carolyn Purcell, executive director of Texas' Information Resources Department, says she is glad the year 2000 problem is over, but 'it showed us that we can pull together.'

As executive director of the Information Resources Department, Carolyn Purcell has a big task: present a single, open and easily accessible face of government to citizens who boast a long tradition of independence and mistrust of government. After all, Texas is the only state that was once an independent nation. Purcell received a bachelor's degree in English and a master's in business administration from the University of Texas at Austin. Besides her work for the state, Purcell has worked in manufacturing and health care.

PURCELL: If Texas were a huge holding company, the Information Resources Department (DIR) would be like the corporate headquarters. We want to get the best use of the taxpayers' dollars. We have a more or less democratic structure. Each of the state's 200 agencies and universities appoints an information resource manager who functions like a chief information officer for that organization. But we do have a centralized telecommunications center. It's a legacy from the old days, but it's been a good thing.

Who's In Charge

Carolyn Purcell

Executive Director, Information Resources

Eddie Esquivel

Deputy Director, Information Resources

Carmen Hernandez

Director, Business Operations

Sources for this Snapshot
include the Texas Information
Resources Department

When agencies plan a project, they put the value to the people of Texas up front. They succeed in implementing it as close to on time and on budget as they can. We have an obligation to report issues to the Legislature. That's specifically built into our mandate.

We're a largely rural state. One of our top programs is our telemedicine project. Several of the state's university medical schools provide medical services to the prison system. Texas has one of the largest telemedicine installations in the world. Rural communities have really benefited from this.

Our Health and Human Services Department is a leader in using technology to meet its mission. Texas was one of the first states to use electronic benefits transfer. We've used it with our Women, Infants and Children program. HHS also made innovative use of neural networks to detect medical-insurance fraud. And HHS links its electronic benefits to a fingerprint identification system; that has reduced the opportunity for fraud, too.

Bills online

Perhaps our most important program is with the online Texas Legislature. They broadcast all plenary sessions over the Web, in audio and video, real-time and archived. Every bill and every iteration of every bill is available over the Internet. They've done a great job.

Some of our rural issues were addressed by the telemedicine program that the DIR encouraged. It was also a big help when Texas deregulated telecommunications. The state created a $1.5 million fund for telecommunications in schools, libraries and hospitals so we could spool modern telecommunications and the Internet out there.

The DIR has a project afoot to build an Internet business portal. This is with the direction of Gov. Bush's office. One of the things the Internet can do is erase boundaries between agencies.

We like to promote and staff cooperative efforts that take advantage of Texas' size, and we like to do things one time instead of multiple times. The geographic information systems mapping program is a good example of this. We're making one digital map of the state, and everybody can use it.


Business operations'Negotiates, manages and monitors contracts with information technology vendors to make the best use of the state's resources

Enterprise operations'Provides strategic and policy direction for technology in the state, including use of the Internet for electronic payments, documents and services

Telecommunications'Provides voice, video and data telecommunications services to the state's agencies and universities


Electronic Benefits Transfer'Texas operates the largest EBT system in the country through the Lone Star card. The program provides food stamps and Temporary Assistance to Needy Families support to about 1.5 million people each month.

Texas Legislature Online'This program, on the Web at www.capitol.state.tx.us, broadcasts all plenary sessions in real-time and archived audio and video.

GIS Mapping Program'This project is creating a digital map of the state through the efforts of several state agencies and universities.

State Technology Assessment Center'The center conducts hands-on testing of new hardware and software and ensures that new equipment meets state standards.

Some things to keep in mind about the people of Texas: They have a healthy distrust of government, and they are fiscally conservative. Here in the DIR, we monitor projects closely to make sure the money is spent wisely, projects are completed and that each project achieves what the department set out to achieve.

Texas' bigness is an important issue. We first implemented our EBT in Harris County, which includes Houston. The vendor said that the Harris County EBT project was bigger than some of their other EBT installations that encompassed whole states. Vendors say they apply what they call 'the Texas factor' when they deal with us. No question, it's a big state.

About the year 2000 problem'I'm glad it's over. But what a remarkable thing it was. The collaboration between government agencies and business'it was just awesome. It showed us that we can pull together. We can join forces in a global effort to fix something.

Year 2000 reinforced several things. First, that good project management is paramount. Second, it showed the importance of executive support. In Texas, we were fortunate to have an extremely supportive governor and Legislature. Agencies adopted good testing and defect resolutions practices. And finally, agencies spent some time building contingency plans for any event'Y2K or hurricanes'that might disrupt their services.


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