Top Projects

Outside the corporate world, the nonprofit arena tests the determination and diplomacy of IT leaders.

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Ben L. Berry
CIO, Oregon Department of Transportation, Salem

  • Project at a glance: It unfolded in two major phases: planning, which included preparing an inventory of statewide IT assets and preparing a business case for consolidation; and implementation, which resulted in the creation of a state data center with fault-tolerant and redundant components, two IBM zSeries mainframes, three iSeries mainframes, 900 servers and statewide network facilities.

  • Signature leadership move: Led a team of 12 CIOs to sell a compromise project plan to the state governing board.

Major departments of state governments typically go their own way with IT, with each having its own data center. But Oregon recently became one of just three states to consolidate data centers and networking infrastructures into one large, shared facility.

The objective of the consolidation, says the project's leader, Berry, was to reduce costs while maintaining or improving service levels. He says his agency is already saving 5% of its server, mainframe, network and storage costs, but the real savings won't kick in until the fifth year, after amortization of loans and interest.

Berry, 55, was chairman of a 12-person committee of CIOs for the project, but he prefers to call himself a "facilitator."

"This [committee] kind of changed our culture to where it wasn't just command and control in your own shop, but more of a collaboration for a greater good," he says. "That meant giving up the infrastructure that each of us owned."

The CIOs encountered a major stumbling block when they discovered that the consolidated facility would need more people than they had first anticipated. The original plan had been to put 93 employees in the new center and lay off 62.

"But we had all that tribal knowledge in people walking out the door, and we had the transition period of a year. What would happen if we were understaffed? With 93 people, stuff would have fallen over," Berry says. With the state legislature counting on big labor savings, the CIOs clearly had a problem.

The solution was for Berry to work with the other CIOs to present a persuasive case to the governing board, which in turn sold it to the legislature. As a result, nearly all of the 155 workers were retained initially, with the idea that staff size would shrink over time and that the cost savings would increase.

Berry says that CIOs who are going down a similar path should realize upfront that their best cost estimates are likely to be low. "There's the original business case, and then there's reality," he says. His advice: "Be conservative. If you've got one number, you need to add a confidence-level factor, so you start to look at a range instead of a target, a minimum instead of a maximum."

Michael Marsh, deputy director of the Oregon Department of Transportation, says pulling all the parties together for the project was a "huge challenge." It required Berry to deal with issues of trust and autonomy, collective bargaining and service-level agreements. "It was a huge deliverable, and Ben was in a premier role as head of the CIO group," Marsh says.

"He focused very specifically on customer service," Marsh adds. "He made sure that all the perspectives of all agencies were heard by the vendor and by the folks implementing it. He also worked hard to make sure that the agencies communicated well."

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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