RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory announced Thursday the creation of a state government computer technology education and testing center he said will ensure employees learn the latest technology and products meet the needs of workers and citizens before they're purchased.
The "innovation center" being housed in the headquarters of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources in Raleigh will serve as a hub for all state agencies to try out new technology and train workers on up-to-date computer systems and programs.
Chief information officers, other government agency representatives and IT vendors will meet there to help state government make sound purchases that are cost effective and useful, officials said. Employees, taxpayers and others who interface with state government online will be brought in to test pilot demos and make suggestions.
That could include, for example, upgrades to the state Division of Motor Vehicles website, McCrory said.
"We're actually going to try it before we buy it," the government said at the announcement inside the environment building.
McCrory has made information technology modernization a high priority during his almost four months in office. Agency chiefs have described servers in unsafe locations, computers running on severely outdated operating systems and thousands of workers without email addresses. State government has struggled for years with keeping IT costs in checks and ensuring that agencies purchase systems that can communicate with each other easily.
"Agencies have had a hard time working together because the technology doesn't work together, because it's been bought at different times and different places for different reasons," new State Chief Information Officer Chris Estes said. "So by collaborating and working together we can make the technology work more efficiently, which ultimately brings better services to our citizens."
The governor says the center won't cost additional state funds and will be fully operational in several months.
A performance review from State Auditor Beth Wood's office released this week said state government needs to do a better job calculating the costs of IT projects and how long they'll take to complete. A review of 84 projects found actual costs were $356 million higher than state agencies originally estimated and took 389 days longer, the audit said.
One of the largest projects in the list is a new Medicaid billing system scheduled to go online this summer after years of delays and spending hundreds of millions of dollars more than originally anticipated while the project's scope expanded. McCrory said the center isn't designed to fix ongoing projects like this one but "a long-term plan to prevent those types of situations" from occurring again.
Touring the currently spartan surroundings of the innovation center on the building's first floor, McCrory, Estes and House Speaker Thom Tillis watched a mock computer training class and went to other rooms where organizers envision employees learning about new smart phones, PCs and servers.
Another room housed a high-tech video conference system that the governor envisions can be used to speak with companies interested in expanding in the state without having to travel personally halfway around the world to communicate with them.
McCrory said he's asked the General Assembly to change a law that would allow employees to try out new technology from vendors without it being labeled a "gift" and thus violating state ethics rules.
The new governor has been rolling out new initiatives weekly over the past month, including those on Medicaid, transportation funding and economic development.