Published on January 12, 2024, 5:11 pm
After serving as the statewide chief information officer (CIO) for nearly 11 years, Richard “Dickie” Howze has stepped down from his position in the Louisiana state government. Howze’s retirement came after receiving short notice of Governor Jeff Landry’s decision to install his own leader at the Office of Technology Services. As the first CIO in Louisiana with the power to administer IT from a consolidated office, Howze had an unparalleled opportunity to revolutionize the state’s use of technology.
Under Howze’s leadership, significant changes were made in Louisiana’s approach to technology. From cost-cutting initiatives to the elimination of technical debt exceeding $1 billion, Howze spearheaded transformative efforts throughout his tenure. Complex IT systems such as the state’s $150 million medical eligibility system underwent radical transformations, along with frontline staffs’ desktop computers.
Howze’s journey in public service began when he accepted a role at the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services in 1978. Influenced by his family members who also worked in public service, he recognized the benefits it offered, including a solid retirement system and ample sick leave and vacation time. Equipped with a two-year computer operations program from the Louisiana Community and Technical College System, Howze entered public service and never considered pursuing opportunities in the private sector.
Despite witnessing numerous possibilities emerging within the computer industry during the 80s and 90s, Howze felt no desire to explore alternative paths. He joined Children and Family Services before transitioning to application development and eventually managing mainframe applications and software installations. His dedication led him to become manager of the department’s technical support division, IT director, department undersecretary, and ultimately head of Louisiana’s consolidated IT office in 2012.
Consolidation was met with resistance both internally among agency leaders and staff members alike. Employees hesitated to relinquish control over their respective areas of expertise and express concerns about receiving services from an external entity. However, as Howze took proactive measures like eliminating overlapping software and securing better deals for bulk software licenses, the savings accumulated rapidly. Within a year, the newly established IT office had saved the state $75 million.
When Governor John Bel Edwards assumed office in 2016, Howze found himself explaining the achievements of the technology office under his leadership. Typically, CIOs are replaced when a new governor is elected, particularly following a party change. However, Edwards recognized the success of Louisiana’s IT consolidation efforts and decided to retain Howze as his CIO.
Unlike his predecessor Bobby Jindal, Gov. Edwards was committed to allocating funds for IT projects. In response to legislation mandating an inventory of outdated hardware and software across the state, Howze’s office estimated technical debt at approximately $1.3 billion. By the time of his retirement, this number had dwindled to just $100 million thanks to two terms of replacing outdated systems under Edwards’ administration.
Throughout this process, Louisiana’s technology underwent comprehensive transformations encompassing hardware upgrades, infrastructure enhancements, networking improvements, application developments, and even changes in how agencies procure desktop computers. A budgeting challenge was resolved by offering agencies the option to lease computers through the central IT office instead of purchasing them outright.
Overall, Howze attested that the consolidated IT model has proven highly effective for agencies across Louisiana. The implementation of virtual server farms in each data center has provided agility and cost savings by facilitating workload migration to the cloud while ensuring that agencies no longer need to bear financial burdens associated with replacing obsolete equipment.
Now retired after 45 years of dedicated service almost every single day, Howze plans on taking some time off to decompress before potential future endeavors as a contractor and involvement with his church activities. Like many successful technology leaders in government, he credits his accomplishments to his dedicated team who executed coding tasks and network upgrades while he focused on securing resources and fortifying data centers. Howze expressed his eternal gratitude for the contributions of his team members, acknowledging their pivotal role in his achievements as CIO.