CIO OUTLOOK

Put IT and public broadcasting under the same tent

Otto Doll

As the only state chief information officer with a responsibility for public broadcasting, I have been in a unique position to see the merger of information technology and broadcasting.

These industries are closer than you think. Considering the strength of their presence in the public sector, I recommend other state CIOs get to know their state's public broadcasting situation.

Did you know that some state IT shops get their networking services from a public broadcasting organization or at least share communication towers and other infrastructure? The public broadcasting stations across the nation are large consumers of communications bandwidth. Not only do public radio and TV stations use broadcast technology, they do so with a fair amount of IT.

Now add the fact that public broadcasting is migrating its infrastructure to digital technology for both television and radio. Thus public broadcasting is now in the business of manipulating and moving bits.

Stations are learning how to manage databases instead of libraries of video and audiotapes.

Public broadcasters have become big users of the Internet. Like their commercial counterparts, some use the Internet as a broadcast medium.

South Dakota started the country's first Internet broadcast group more than two years ago. Public broadcasting has moved to beaming bits through the air instead of just traditional analog signals.

Too often government IT and public broadcasting domains duplicate infrastructure and tasks, from towers to network operations. States are not consolidating the capacities and human resources of both.

You've probably noticed how the commercial IT and broadcast industries fight for control over people's monitors, exemplified by the competition between Microsoft Corp. and AOL Time Warner Inc. Perhaps both worlds will morph into a hybrid: Call it the Intercast medium.

In the public sector, IT shops should provide technology services to public broadcasting. But this presents several challenges.

First, public broadcasting is cash poor and IT is expensive.

Second, I've found that public broadcasters do not relate well to information technologists and vice versa.

And third, the broadcast industry exists to inform and entertain, not to provide services, or'as South Dakota Public Broadcasting says''to enlighten our viewers and listeners.' I have found these differences to cause engaging discussions, to say the least.

As IT has been valuable to state government programs, so has public broadcasting. From instructional television to information dissemination during disasters, public broadcasting plays a key role in governance.

I believe public broadcasting is stronger when folded into the IT world.

South Dakota has benefited immensely since it put public broadcasting under the aegis of the CIO back in 1996. States should consider this move if they wish to maximize the impact of broadcasting in the Internet age.

Otto Doll, South Dakota's chief information officer, formerly worked in federal information technology and was president of the National Association of State Information Resource Executives.

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