Tennessee puts technology on every plate

Tennessee puts technology on every plate

'If this job quit being fun, I'd do something else,' says Bradley Dugger, Tennessee's CIO for more than 13 years.

State CIO's long career spans growing importance of IT, easier data sharing

By Trudy Walsh

GCN Staff

Who's In

Bradley Dugger

Chief, Office of Information


Chuck Pitt

Director, Computer Center

Lynn Stenglein

Director of Technology

Bill Ezell

Director, Systems Development

and Support

Jamie Etheridge

Director, Quality Assurance


Source: Tennessee's Finance and

Administration Department

Bradley Dugger, chief of Tennessee's Office of Information Resources, has been in charge of the state's information technology for 14 years, mind-boggling longevity in the volatile world of government IT.

Dugger graduated with a bachelor of science degree in mathematics from Peabody College, now a part of Vanderbilt University, in Nashville, Tenn., 'right before the hippie era,' he said. He taught math in Tennessee public high schools before taking a job in computer manufacturing.

He ran the vintage 1959 IBM 360 and 1401 computers for nearby Columbia State Community College, where he also taught computer science. Throughout his career, he has never left the rolling hills of Tennessee.

DUGGER: We're centralized in a lot of ways in Tennessee. The Office of Information Resources sets policy for the state. Our main areas of responsibility are the state data center, networks, voice, WANs'all those kinds of efforts.

We don't get any state appropriations. It's fee-for-service. We have some unusual funding mechanisms. The OIR has a revolving pool of money. If an agency ultimately can cut $2 million a year from its budget by using a new system, we can loan the money up front. We can loan them up to $10 million. If the agency can save $2 million a year in increased efficiency, closing offices and the like, in five years, they can pay us back and never have to ask the legislature for the money. That encourages accountability.

In nearly 14 years as computer chief, I've seen a lot of changes. We've moved from being computer-centric to network-centric. The other big change is that we've been able to break down some of the invisible divisive barriers between governments. Thanks to technology, we don't have that 'This is my data, you can't use it' attitude. Sharing data is easy. The hard part is changing attitudes.

Another interesting change is that political folks are beginning to recognize the importance of technology. Ten years ago, you'd have a hard time getting a political fellow interested in talking to you, but now technology is on everyone's plate. Two years ago, we automated the legislative chambers. Even late adopters are starting to see that technology is useful.

Politics, no; IT, yes

One of the reasons I've stayed so long is that in Tennessee we all work for the government. We're apolitical, not tied to a governor as such. In other states, people come in with the governor and leave with the governor. That's not the case in Tennessee. I think that's why we've been rated a pretty efficient state.

The other reason I've stayed so long is that it's still just fun. I see us accomplishing things that help the children in my neighborhood or the kids in my church. If this job quit being fun, I'd do something else.

We do have some special challenges in Tennessee. We have a wide range of economic differences between rural and urban counties. In Nashville, Oak Ridge and Knoxville, we've got concentrated high-tech industries. Then we have the poverty of the Appalachian region. So we take the digital divide very seriously.

Customer Service'Runs what used to be called the help desk

Operations'Supports and maintains the state's 24-hour data center, mainframes and enterprise servers

Systems Development and Support'Develops and maintains enterprise software

Telecommunications'Supports voice and data communications

Electronic commerce'A common Web portal for Tennessee's state and local governments

Geographic information systems'A project to map the whole state digitally down to the property parcel level

Tennessee Information Infrastructure'A statewide network that will reach into schools and libraries in each county

Tennessee is long and skinny. People who live in Bristol, on the eastern border, are closer to New York City than they are to Memphis. We're also neighborly'we have more neighbors than any other state. We're bordered by Kentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas and Missouri.

Tennessee is a little microcosm of the whole country. We used to call it the three states of Tennessee: the Mississippi Delta, the central plains and the mountains. That is why our statewide data network, the Tennessee Information Infrastructure, is so important. We designed it to reach into every county with full capability. TNII will bring telemedicine and business growth to remote mountain areas. It will also make sure schools, libraries and public marketplaces can reach government.

All for one

The accomplishment I'm proudest of is the fact that we've been able to build a team across departments and branches of government that looks at technology as a function of government. I'm proud we can work with the judicial and legislative branch for the betterment of the state. We can respect the separate branches of government, but we can also share tools and information. The other agencies trust us. They trust that things are going to work right. I'm not saying everybody loves us, but we can work together.

We learned important lessons from the year 2000 problem. First of all, we learned you need to educate people. Second, we learned you need to be honest and tell people if you're having problems. Most important, year 2000 taught us to work together across different parts of government.

We quit calling them 'feds' or 'state.' We learned that there were real nice people working in both places. The year 2000 was a dragon. If you've got a dragon, you can work together to slay it. And if we don't carry this lesson forward in our fed-state relationship, it will be the biggest crime of the century.

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