George White | Turnaround on a dime

GCN IT Leadership Awards 2007 | White's Pa. upgrade meets time, budget constraints

Career highlights

1995: Received the National Association of State Information Resource Executives' Annual Technology Innovations Award, for the Pennsylvania Rural Health Telecommunications Network.

1995: Created Pennsylvania's first Web site, which in 1998 won Best of the Web award.

1999: Implemented Commonwealth Connect, Pennsylvania's award-winning initiative that consolidated more than 65,000 users in agencies under the governor's jurisdiction into one, centralized e-mail and collaborative platform, and created a standard desktop platform for all agencies.

2000: Launched the award-winning PA PowerPort, the nation's first state government Web portal.

2005: Appointed CIO for the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General.

George White

Rick Steele

When George White took over the job of chief information officer for Pennsylvania's Office of Attorney General in 2005, it was like stepping back in time.

The information technology infrastructure had not been updated in more than 10 years, and it could not meet the organization's demands. The network failed regularly. Servers collapsed. The aging desktop computer environment was poorly managed.

There were also a lot of disparities in the technology at all levels ' from desktop PCs to data center equipment ' and employees had not kept their technology skills current.

The attorney general wanted a comprehensive investigation management system completed during White's first year, and he also had to oversee the completion of an integrated case management system that all divisions could use.

Sheri Phillips, director of management services at the Office of Attorney General, said that when she hired White, she asked him, 'Do you like challenges? You have a lot.'

But in just two years, he has turned the IT function into an efficient, state-of-the-art operation staffed by a rejuvenated and enthusiastic workforce that is aligned with the goals and demands of the attorney general's office.
His team also has the two case management systems well under way, both expected to be completed by December.

White is no stranger to managing complex IT projects. He previously held management positions in Pennsylvania's Office of Administration.

He was project manager for many of the state's technology accomplishments, including the state's first Web site, first statewide internal portal, deployment of standard desktop software for the state's 65,000 PCs, and consolidation of e-mail for all state employees and organizations under the purview of the governor.

'During the time he worked with me, he directly handled some very challenging projects,' said Charles Gerhards, who was formerly Pennsylvania's CIO and supervised White at the Office of Administration. White's success is based on his commitment to his job and his methodical approach to projects, Gerhards said.
Those strengths have served him well in the attorney general's office. It also helped to have the backing of Attorney General Tom Corbett, his staff and senior IT managers such as Phillips.

White started by meeting with IT department staff and users; then he developed a three-year strategic plan for how his staff could correct performance inefficiencies and leapfrog the department into 21st-century technology.
The most important step was aligning the organization's goals with what IT could do to support them, White said.

In his first year, he focused on rebuilding the infrastructure. Applications, end-user support and IT training were still important, but he also devoted resources to deploying a standard Microsoft desktop environment to 1,000 users at 23 locations.

Tools of the trade

In addition, every user got a desktop printer, a security-conscious move when users are investigators. When White arrived, the office's drug and investigative agents were sharing computers and printers. Now every agent has a computer, and only color printers are shared. The office also has a better e-mail system.
White also replaced 150 stand-alone servers ' each with its own disk arrays for storage ' with a less cumbersome virtualized server environment.

Other infrastructure upgrades included dual storage-area networks ' one at headquarters in Harrisburg and another at a disaster recovery site in State College.

White also oversaw the replacement of the statewide network with a wide-area Ethernet network managed by Verizon.

In the second year, he updated his strategic plan, evaluated software applications and procured all the commercial software necessary to complete the infrastructure overhaul.

'We literally rebuilt everything from the desktop to the back-end servers to storage to the statewide network to the core software we were using,' he said.
Bringing in state-of-the-art technology while staying within his budget required extensive negotiations with vendors, Phillips said.

Pennsylvania's turnaround has become a model for other states. Other state attorney general's offices often call White for advice, Phillips said.

That's fine as long as they don't try to lure White away from Pennsylvania, Corbett said. If they do, 'I might have to arrest them.'

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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