The Edmond Sun

February 5, 2013

Push for state IT update targets Higher Ed

James Coburn
The Edmond Sun

EDMOND — Gov. Mary Fallin continued her call this week for state agencies to benefit from upgrades and consolidation of Information Technology resources.

“Two years ago, I asked you to work with me and our state’s Chief Information Officer Alex Pettit to consolidate and improve IT,” Fallin said in her State of the State address at the state Capitol building.

“As I said in my State of the State address then, state government can’t continue to operate like an 8-track player in an iPod world,” she said. “As of now, we have consolidated and improved the IT resources of 50 agencies for a savings of $84 million.”

Higher education lobbyists have been trying to sway legislators again this year against a recommendation by the Kimbell Report, that the state consolidate its fiber and over-the-air radio network infrastructure, state Rep. Jason Murphey said.

“Their report showed millions and millions of dollars of savings if we have a cohesive approach between the state agencies,” Murphey said. “We found that over time different agencies built out different networks and they didn’t work together.”

There will be a renewed effort this year by modernization-minded lawmakers to consolidate higher education fiber with state fiber, he said. House Bill 1840 will have its first reading April 4 by state Rep. David Derby, R-Tulsa.

Murphey said the non-collaborative relationships of agencies can cause public safety problems when an agency cannot access a secure network.

The consolidation of information technology among agencies has been beneficial, Murphey said. But the lobbying strength of higher education institutions has been successful in exempting itself from reforming information technology, Murphey said.

OneNet is Oklahoma’s telecommunications and information network for education and government. The exemption of higher education from IT reform has resulted in OneNet not being able to consolidate and streamline the flow of information, Murphey said.

“Again, we clearly see there would be millions of dollars of savings,” Murphey said. “We determined OneNet was overcharging state agencies for access to that fiber.”

Higher education fought consolidation efforts last year so it could charge state agencies more money, Murphey said. So there has been a hidden appropriation to higher education that is passed on to other state agencies to pay rates they should not have to pay for the service, he said. Murphey said this hidden fee is about $20 million.

“My point of view is if the Legislature wants to make appropriations to higher education, then they should make that in the form of appropriation,” Murphey said. “But it is bad policy to have segregated IT networks and it is bad policy to overcharge agencies with this hidden fee that nobody realizes is going to higher ed.”

The public safety communications infrastructure is antiquated, Murphey said. Agencies should be able to communicate effectively during an emergency wildfire, he said for example. The combination of fiber networks with the state’s infrastructure networks would improve communications at a moment’s notice.

“Higher education’s reluctance to give up control is a huge stumbling block in that effort,” he said.

When the lobbyists were not effective in stopping the bill in committee, they brought in the higher education presidents to lobby to beat the legislation on the floor, Murphey said.

“The presidents were very influential and they were able to sway legislative opinion,” he said.

Pettit said his office is working closely with the regents and the Oklahoma Department of Transportation by forming a governance group to make decisions regarding fiber for the best interest of the state.

“We have not quite yet got the memorandum of understanding signed and the committee set up,” Petit said. “But we’re right on the cusp. We’re hoping to get that out in the next week or two.”

Pettit said it’s vital that all the state’s connectivity be used for reducing the size and cost of government.

“As far as the administrative changes they’re talking about, we’re still pursuing this anyway,” Pettit said of a cooperative effort. | 341-2121