Discover North Carolina’s New Tech Hub, iCenter – Plus your weekend reads!

Every day it seems like tech companies unveiling new and revolutionary technologies and agencies can't get their hands on the technologies fast enough. But there is a problem. Agencies are siloed. That means that the government often end up buying the same technology twice.

North Carolina is trying to curb the problem by creating the iCenter. The new facility will house technology demos from across the state government, that way agencies can try new technologies before they buy.

The man behind the iCenter is Chris Estes. Estes is the state CIO for North Carolina. He told Chris Dorobek on the DorobekINSIDER program that up until the iCenter was created technology in North Carolina ran similar to an Auto Parts store.

"When I came into the state from the private sector with the Governor we realized pretty quickly that the agencies within the state were running in silos. As a result our technology was running in silos too. We pretty much had the Auto Parts of technology. We had every technology part imaginable but what we needed was a state technology car. So the iCenter is really about assembling that state technology car. It works like the garage. And the mechanic is the CIO at each agency. So we will come together as mechanics to start to assembling the state technology car, so that we can be more efficient and drive down the cost structure for technology in our state," said Estes.

The key to the iCenter is people and people working together and collaborating. This gives us a facility where the various stakeholders can come together to solve state problems.

There are several groups of stakeholders:

  1. Agency CIOs who represent all the business problems that they are trying to solve.
  2. State workers who work for those CIOs, many of whom have not been trained properly because training dollars are not available. Most of our employees were trained on Blackberry’s and we don’t even support Blackberrys anymore. So we have to be re-training people on iPhones and other technology platforms. Many of the contracts we have with vendors allows for that training.

"The iCenter also includes the training for our state employees. Fortunately for us we live near Research Triangle Park which is one of the leading technology areas of the country. As a result we have university systems that feed that Research Triangle Park. So between the vendors that run operations here and the universities we have this untapped resource that we can bring into state government. We can do that through the iCenter," said Estes.

The need to touch the technologies

"The consumerization of technology means that we need to focus on the people who are touching the technology where they interact with it. For most people these days that is either with a smartphone or a tablet. Nowadays more than 50% of people are either smartphone or tablet enabled. People are using apps and smartphones in a way that is changing the landscape of technology. So to be a good technologist we have to support those people. Our Governor says that connecting with the government should be as easy as checking the sports scores on your smartphone," said Estes.

Technology as a customer service device

"What I am chartered with as the CIO, is enabling the Governor's vision of providing great customer service to our citizens. Sometimes that connection can be direct with smartphones and sometimes it will be with the people that are state employees that might be at the DMV office who are operating on tablets," said Estes.

Buy-in from the top

"It is fortunate that I have a Governor that gets it. He knows that to improve customer service in the state he needs technology to enable that. He also knows we need to start connecting the rural parts of our state with technology because if you are not connected by a road or a port or a coast it is going to be difficult to bring good jobs to those areas. He wants to use technology to connect the infrastructure of the state," said Estes.

Try and save

"In the past we have bought technology that hasn’t completed its mission. So one of the other main goals of the iCenter is to make sure that the stuff we buy works. Part of the iCenter focuses on testing the technology before we fund it. Hopefully that will help address the 84 projects that were $360 million that were over budget according to a recent audit by the state auditor," said Estes.

Not just technology in the iCenter, furniture too?

"Inside the iCenter there are all types of technology and furniture, because we are not only testing the technology but we are testing the furniture and its relationship to the technology. All the technology is in there and you can do demos. The technology is always evolving so if you come back to the iCenter two or three times a year you will see a change," said Estes.

Weekend reads

  • Bloomberg Business Week: How the iPod President Crashed: Obama's Broken Technology Promise
  • Harvard Business Review: Three Things that Actually Motivate Employees: Mastery, membership, and meaning are all more important than money.
  • The Atlantic’s James Fallows: The 50 Greatest Breakthroughs Since the Wheel
  • The Atlantic: Nicholas Carr: All Can Be Lost: The Risk of Putting Our Knowledge in the Hands of Machines: We rely on computers to fly our planes, find our cancers, design our buildings, audit our businesses. That's all well and good. But what happens when the computer fails?
  • The Making of McKinsey: Duff McDonald’s book, The Firm, traces the influence of today’s corporate consigliere, the management consultant, through the history of powerhouse firm McKinsey & Co. For certain business types, founder James McKinsey’s writing on bookkeeping and accounting represents their version of Bob Dylan going electric. His thoughts on how businesses should create budgets and accounting reports—and use that data to continually gauge company performance—completely changed everything, launching modern management techniques and, with it, the need for management consultants. McKinsey & Co. set up shop in the 1920s just as control of some of the largest companies was passing from founders – the Carnegies, Fords and Rockefellers –to a new class of professional managers. “Lacking the legitimization of actual ownership, professional managers felt great pressure to show they were using cutting-edge practices,” Mr. McDonald writes. “And who better to bring those practices to their attention than consultants who were talking to everyone else? This was the beginning of a decades-long separation of ownership from control in corporate America, and the consultant was an able ally to the professional manager in this tug-of-war.”
  • WSJ: What's Scott Adams' secret to success? 'Goals are for losers'




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