Originally created 02/13/98

Government to change technology

RALEIGH -- State government needs to change the way it thinks about technology if it wants to keep up with the rapid changes in computing and communications, a state adviser says.

North Carolina should hire its own high-tech planners, rather than consultants, Bill Willis, vice provost for information technology at North Carolina State University, told lawmakers Wednesday.

And it should invest in developing a strong computer base, rather than treat changes in state agencies as individual projects.

"I think the state, somewhere, needs to pay the price and hire people who can plan the state's technological development," Willis told a legislative study commission looking at the state's information technology.

"We must own the ability to plan our own future," said Willis, who has served on the state task force overseeing technology development. "We cannot hire the strategic thinking about the way we ought to proceed."

Willis, who is leaving NCSU for private industry, said the state also must quit thinking about computer projects in agencies as separate, independent projects.

He pointed to the state's system for locating parents who are behind in child support payments. That system must check the computerized records for driver's licenses, taxes, hunting licenses and other systems.

Willis joint the technology task force as that project was beginning.

His thoughts, he said, were "This project is a nightmare. It's huge; it's expensive. It's too complicated for anybody to do correctly.

"We muddled through that one," he said. "We got a marvelous project manager. You got a report lately that put that project dead where it needs to be and $5 million under budget. That's a miracle."

Instead of huge, solo projects like "the delinquent father chaser," Willis said, the state should make a commitment to connecting its computer systems and upgrading them into a solid base on which individual projects can be built.

"Now, the delinquent father catcher, instead of a huge project, is a small project based on the infrastructure you already have," he said.

"I'm not going to stand here and tell you this is going to cost you any less," he said. "Our discussion is whether we use it up front and correctly."


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