Alabama CIO navigates thin budget to fund new tech, cyber

Brunson White has a problem: Alabama is running on fumes.

“We’ve been running government in Alabama off of contingency funds since the previous administration, and it’s time for us to stop that,” White, Alabama’s chief information officer, told StateScoop TV in April at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers midyear conference. “The biggest challenge we have in Alabama right now, and it’s not unique to IT, is funding.”

Even in August, nearly four months after White dished to StateScoop about the state’s budget woes, the Legislature is still in the throes of figuring out how to fund the state — in fact, one state senator even launched a GoFundMe page to crowdfund the state’s budget.

White’s Office of Information Technology is running lean — with only five people overseeing the majority of the state’s information technology operations.

“We need to have nine people to run our office at full efficiency and full effectiveness, and we are at five now,” White said. “That’s very difficult. It’s a big lift for us, and what happens when you are understaffed is that you tend to live your life in the tactical world and not in the strategic world. The strategic world is where a lot of the bang for the buck is.”

But even with a tight budget, White continues to work toward moving the state forward and keeping it on pace with its goals. Later this year, in October, the state office of information technology will start rolling out new enterprise resource planning software — a project White said will likely take 18 months to complete.

“That’s something really significant that’s going to be happening soon,” White said. “After Oct. 1 of 2015, every few months, we’ll be getting ready for that. We’re going to be very busy with that over the next year and a half.”

And as the state moves forward with the enterprise resource planning upgrade, White also suggested that the IT office could be charged with more project management.

“We have made meaningful progress toward achieving our objectives of making the state more effective, more efficient and safer from a computing standpoint,” White said. “We brought in the right framework to govern it. From a program management standpoint, where we have the project run on a schedule, it has the right metrics, and most importantly, it has absolute transparency.”

But as most states know, security often is central to all technology efforts. For White, Alabama’s difficult fiscal environment makes it challenging to strengthen the state’s defenses.

“We’ll continue to have a substantial focus on cybersecurity and make sure that funding in that area is adequate and that we can make computing as safe as we can,” White said. “[We’ll keep] a particular emphasis on the things that are usually what trip people up: making sure our employees are educated and that we only run supported software.”

Next, White said the state will work to adhere to the latest version of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Cybersecurity Framework.

“This new one is going to be a big step for us,” White said. “That’s one of the reasons we haven’t fully implemented it yet — it’s pretty large and it’s expensive, but we need to go ahead and set a date and try to accomplish that. The last thing we need is to make sure as we put in all this other technology that cybersecurity doesn’t get left behind and that we continue to fund it at a level that makes us safe.”