He also has a clear view of his goal: to make government more cost- effective, efficient and more responsive to its citizens by using technology to streamline basic operations.
Kirkpatrick is in a unique position to spark this movement. Since April, he’s served as the director of the Government Information Technology Agency, commonly known as GITA, and is Arizona’s chief information officer. In fact, his journey from the private to public sector began, as one might imagine, via e-mail.
“An acquaintance sent me an e-mail about Chris Cummiskey, the prior director, leaving for Washington, D.C.,” says Kirkpatrick. “I contacted him and said, ‘That sounds like an interesting job, since I’m in technology. How would I apply for that?'”
Kirkpatrick, who then was vice president of technology for the Wells Fargo Home Equity Group, sent his résumé to his friend, who forwarded it on to the Brewer administration. Three months later, Kirkpatrick got the call.
In the meantime, “I did a lot of research and I talked to a lot of people about GITA,” after which he developed a one-page outline of his plans for his first 90 days. “I talked to the governor’s staff about what I would do and who I was, and they liked it and hired me,” he says.
Kirkpatrick has worked in the IT field for the past 10 years. He says he lucked into the field: “I was the finance manager at Microage, which at the time was one of the four largest computer distributors in the world.” He was interested in strategic planning and market analysis and was hoping to move the finance department in that direction. However, he discovered that the firm needed to develop the bandwidth, or the available rate and capacity of Internet data access, to make his plan work by automating many of the department’s manual processes.
“We completely transformed the department,” he says.
As a result, Kirkpatrick’s bosses gave him management authority over several of Microage’s IT groups. He’s worked in information technology ever since.
One of Kirkpatrick’s first actions was to bring in other tech-minded people to help make his vision a reality. Kirkpatrick says the agency now has a “complete skill set” designed to move GITA and the state’s information management policies into the future.
“We knew we needed to move GITA in a different direction,” he says, “I wanted people with backgrounds in infrastructure, more background in project management than I have, social media and social networking in order to move in a more strategic direction.”
One aspect of the new career in state government that took Kirkpatrick by surprise is the glut of “well-intentioned” laws in place, which he says have not been modified to address changing technologies. One law is the state records statute that requires agencies to keep a record of all communications. “Now that we’re moving into social media, how do we store Tweets and Facebook postings?” Kirkpatrick asks.
He’s also brought in his own views on financial management.
Kirkpatrick is the former head of the Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity, a conservative political advocacy group that describes itself on its Web site as “an organization of grassroots leaders who engage citizens in the name of limited government and free markets on the local, state and federal levels.”
But he emphasizes that he is not anti-government. Rather, he says, “Ninety-nine percent of the people are going to tell you, we need the government at some level. It’s just how much government and how much (the government reaches) into our life. We focus on what is the role of government, and how much is necessary. I feel that my more conservative background is my key to success.”
He also doesn’t feel like he’s playing with Monopoly money: “I don’t look at this money in my budget and think, ‘This is my money, it comes from some magic money tree.’ This money belongs to the people, to the hard-working taxpayers.”
Kirkpatrick also says he applies the Golden Rule to purchases: “If I were spending money on this project, would I (spend it)? And if I would, given the pricing in the contract, is that the price I would agree to?”
However, he acknowledges that the budget is his biggest challenge. “It impacts everything we do. While there are some projects we’re underfunded on, I think there are some projects that we spent money on that wasn’t the best thing to spend it on. We need to make a strong case on why we need to spend money,” he says.
Kirkpatrick has some ideas about how to best spend state dollars on information technology.
One way to achieve GITA’s goal of making smarter technology consumers was already in place, because each project costing $25,000 or more must be approved by his office, a process known as project investment justification. But Kirkpatrick took the next logical step and directed GITA to review all IT project purchases after his arrival.
“Is (the project) needed, or is it just nice to have?” he asks. And he looks at each contract. “A contract came across my desk for a large purchase of laptop computers,” Kirkpatrick says. “It had a price tag that I knew was far more than what the equipment should have cost – $1,800 for a laptop? I know I can get that at Fry’s for a lot less.”
So, GITA started asking the agency questions about the purchase. “We found that the contract included peripherals like cases and wireless plug-ins that, when added up, was more in line with what the equipment should cost.”
Kirkpatrick also quickly noted another issue with state technology purchases: “Each agency develops its own plan in isolation,” he says.
However, he says that many agencies have the same tech goals, and now more agencies are working together on tech issues.
For example, “The Department of Gaming has 100 employees using Microsoft operating licenses, but ADOT wants to purchase 5,000 (of those same) licenses,” Kirkpatrick says. “There’s a huge pricing differential there, and neither of these agencies are taking advantage of the fact that we have 35,000 employees out there.”
By combining purchases for the same software, the per-license price drops significantly. In fact, Kirkpatrick says that the state could realize a savings of 10 percent to 20 percent of its technology costs simply by purchasing software licenses in bulk for all state employees who use common software.
Kirkpatrick expects that two initiatives begun under his tenure will also help agencies not only talk to each other but save precious revenue in the process. One initiative is called the Web portal, which includes electronic licensing.
“Right now, if you’re opening up a bar, you need to come down to the Department of Liquor Licensing and acquire the paperwork,” he says. “Then, you need to mail (the application) out or drop it off at a physical location, and then they input it into their database.”
Using the e-licensing software, “You can go online and do it from the comfort of your own home and click submit and make your payment. You no longer need someone to take that paperwork and put it into (the system).”
Kirkpatrick notes that several agencies such as Game and Fish have already enacted e-licensure, and other agencies such as the Department of Financial Institutions have projects in development. Of course, the Department of Motor Vehicles has had its own e-licensure piece, Service Arizona, in place for more than 10 years.
The second initiative is making more effective use of the state’s multi-million-dollar Data Center. Kirkpatrick is encouraging agencies to “take their server operations out of their building and consolidate them in the Data Center.” He says the move will save electricity, space and networking equipment purchases, and may also save personnel costs. “If I’ve already got a person managing servers at DOA, do I need this person at this particular agency?”
Meanwhile, GITA is working to make state government more accessible to citizens by making use of social media. GITA updated its Web site and has set up accounts on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube in order to better communicate with people who live outside of the Capitol Mall.
“We’re serving as the ‘guinea pig’ and writing the guidelines for social media for the state,” he says. GITA also has developed templates for other agencies’ Web sites in order to have all agencies sport similar visual attributes, and re-launched the state’s Web site, az.gov, in September.
GITA also advises other agencies and the Legislature on tech issues.
The agency’s representatives have testified before committees and a recently-organized technology legislative ad hoc committee, and have advised the state Historical Society and ASU about social networking.
“There are a lot of tech bills at the Legislature,” says Kirkpatrick, “and we write white papers and provide technical advice to them,” which assists legislators in developing technology policies.
Looking to the future, Kirkpatrick says GITA is taking a more active approach to statewide technology planning. “We’re developing a statewide plan using a bottom-up process by talking to all the agencies at the same time,” he says.
The aim is to establish priorities and combine the goals into an overall state IT strategic plan. “By getting all the agencies on board, we can drive everybody toward those common goals as a state.”
– GITA’s media accounts can be found at the following Web addresses: youtube.com/azgita1, facebook.com/azgita, twitter.com/azgita.