Greenwood County, S.C.By Tony Kontzer Print
Government agencies are using information technology to deliver more value without spending more money.
GREENWOOD COUNTY, S.C.
Few things are more crippling to local government than a broken e-mail system. Just ask Brad Barnell, IT director for Greenwood County, S.C. The county’s 300 e-mail users weren’t even on the same system. Like most counties, Greenwood was cash-strapped, so only the power users—about one-fourth of county employees—were on Microsoft Exchange, while the rest were supported by a free Unix-based product called SquirrelMail.
The county’s IT staff, which consisted of three people, had to pay a vendor about $18,000 a year to manage the environment. To make matters worse, the e-mail addresses weren’t consistent, spam was rampant and e-mailed inquiries from the public were falling through the cracks.
Barnell reached out to Google, which referred him to Cloud Sherpas, a systems integrator that specializes in migrating organizations to Google Apps and Google Mail. The county moved all its users to Google Mail, for annual fees of $15,000 for 300 Google Apps licenses—$3,000 a year less than it had been paying its vendor for e-mail maintenance.
“It takes all those hours that were going to be spent on e-mail and lets us use them on other projects,” Barnell points out. Those projects include developing a Web presence to give the public access to services online, more training for staff on other technologies, and migrating software into a new data center.
Barnell hopes to leverage the other Google Apps tools—Google Talk, Google Calendar, Google Docs and the rest—to reduce on-premises storage requirements in the new data center. “The cloud is perfect for us,” he says.
STATE OF UTAH
Like many states, Utah had allowed each agency to develop its own IT footprint, and the resulting redundancies and service duplications made it impossible for the state to know what it was spending on technology.
“The way they did accounting for each of the agencies, there wasn’t even an IT line,” says the state’s CIO, Stephen Fletcher. “There were program lines, such as Medicaid, with all IT costs embedded into overall program costs.”
Things came to a head when state officials received a request for a new document management system that was identical to one they’d just approved for another agency—and the requesting agency bristled at the state’s suggestion that the two agencies share the system. So the state passed legislation mandating an IT cost-cutting initiative that would pull IT out of individual agencies and consolidate it into a centralized organization, with Fletcher having final say on all IT purchases statewide.
Over the next 18 months, IT was reorganized, and cost-cutting efforts began. Fletcher had his staff go through everything, establishing a baseline cost and performance objective for each.
The IT organization’s first target was data center consolidation. The 35 data centers were scaled back to two—a primary data center and a backup facility—both with virtualized machines that leave the state well-positioned to deliver cloud-based services. For a one-time $4 million investment, Utah is reaping $4 million annually in reduced operating costs, shaving more than 25 percent from its previous data center budget.
Fletcher and his staff then considered IT security, which was plagued by gaps. They also deployed a system to manage help desk tickets, purchasing and asset management so that agencies would know what they were spending on IT; adopted a single suite of software development tools to ensure a consistent methodology; introduced hundreds of online applications that citizens can use to access services; and installed a data warehouse fronted by the latest business intelligence tools so agencies could slice and dice information.
Along the way, Fletcher also reduced the state’s IT staff from 1,000 to 750 people through attrition, slashing another $25 million in annual IT spending.
Fletcher is now looking to further reduce operating costs with desktop virtualization and converged communications, and by retiring mainframes. He’s also considering joining with other states to create a single pool of geographic data that could greatly reduce storage costs, and he’s open to obtaining additional services from other governments or agencies.
Fletcher believes his holistic approach to IT works better than simply making across-the-board IT cuts. Using technology and consolidation to help reduce the state’s overall budget by 10 percent has a much larger impact than just shaving 10 percent from the IT budget. “Every state is trying to put a model together to make that happen,” says Fletcher. Count Utah among those that have figured it out.
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