The Virginia Information Technologies Agency is moving out of its Chester data center and into the cloud, the interconnected digital universe that Gov. Ralph Northam ordered state agencies two years ago to begin using to store data instead of relying on nearby buildings filled with computer servers.
VITA, as part of its now-complete shift to a system of multiple vendors for IT services instead of Northrop Grumman Corp., began moving computer servers early last month from Commonwealth Enterprise Solutions Center in Chester to a new data center in eastern Henrico County that Unisys Corp., the state’s contractor for data storage, opened in August.
The IT agency has moved 225 computer servers to begin a process that ultimately will take more than 3,000 servers to the QTS data center in Sandston by the end of 2021, about six months before the lease expires on the Chester facility.
Most of the roughly 350 employees who had worked there for Northrop Grumman are working for new state IT vendors.
But the move also represents a new way of thinking at VITA, a previously maligned IT agency that is embracing the use of cloud technologies to safely store information critical to more than 60 executive branch agencies while working to improve the way it serves them and responds to outages that affect their operations.
“VITA’s migration to cloud technology presents even more opportunities to serve our customers with agility and customization,” said Chief Operating Officer Jon Ozovek, who was hired 14 months ago to a newly created position to improve VITA’s performance. “With cloud technology in other areas of our business, we’ve already been able to quickly pivot in response to immediate needs, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.”
VITA got high marks from the state agencies for enabling them and their employees to operate remotely after the governor declared the public health emergency on March 12, according to a new report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, which had been sharply critical of the IT agency a year earlier.
JLARC said last week that VITA had completed the transition to the new multivendor system after numerous delays and had provided “critical assistance” to state agencies to operate during the pandemic by expanding remote access by employees to agency computer networks, distributing an additional 2,700 laptop computers and boosting the staffing of its service desk.
“All the chips were down and you need your partners to execute, and we executed very well,” Ozovek said in an interview on Friday.
In a survey of state agencies, JLARC said more than 75 were satisfied with VITA’s help during the pandemic.
However, separate surveys show that the IT agency needs to improve its focus on customer service, said JLARC, which estimated that 60% of state agencies were dissatisfied with VITA service and remain concerned about long delays in resolving outages and other service problems.
With VITA operations stable under the new business model, Ozovek said the agency is moving aggressively to improve its relationship with government customers, not only for traditional utility telecommunications services, but by offering new technologies to improve the way they operate and save them money.
For example, he said the agency plans to introduce robotic process automation to boost productivity, save time and money.
“That’s something that has an immediate effect on the bottom line,” Ozovek said. “It’s really improving the customer experience.”
JLARC said the creation of the chief operating officer position had improved VITA’s management of the new multivendor system by enforcing the terms of contracts with eight suppliers of different IT services. Enforcement of contract performance requirements rose from 30% in August 2019 — Ozovek’s first month in the job — to 97% in June.
Chief Information Officer Nelson Moe, in a video address to JLARC on Monday, praised Ozovek’s role in VITA’s improved performance since the watchdog’s previous review.
“His experience in deploying multisupplier environments and efforts over the past year have been key to our success,” Moe said.
VITA says it’s also working harder to share information with the agencies it serves while surveying them monthly and biannually. Ozovek said the Department of Taxation praised the IT agency’s new communication strategy at a meeting with government customers last month.
“These are things we’re not looking to do,” he said. “These are things we’re doing.”
Tax Commissioner Craig Burns said, “We appreciate VITA’s efforts at improving customer service, and know that VITA recognizes the importance of technology in what we do at Virginia Tax.”