IT executives say the road to digital government is flecked with potholes

IT executives say the road to digital government is flecked with potholes

By Wilson P. Dizard III

GCN Staff

ASHEVILLE, N.C.'Amid general euphoria about the prospects for digital government, state and local officials at the National Association of State Information Resource Executives' midyear conference identified serious problems that confront governments seeking to shift their services into electronic overdrive.

The trend toward digital government is exposing the need to re-engineer state government processes designed for paper and pencil and to revamp state agency systems that don't interact. If chief information officers do not overhaul procedures, digital government initiatives will be little more than a patina of technology masking hidebound working methods, conference speakers said.

State and local CIOs face the task of gathering political power to impose standards and practices on state agency officials who jealously guard their own prerogatives, conference speakers said.



Meanwhile, CIOs are wrestling with public concerns about information security and privacy and the conundrum of maintaining public services in more traditional forms to citizens who don't have access to or familiarity with computers.

'Yesterday's model, in which the citizen presented himself to a government agency and the agency stood between the individual and the information, is obsolete,' said Steve E. Kolodney, director of Washington's Information Services Department.

Down to business

'We need a new model of government. It's a matter of public expectations,' Kolodney said. 'If people can conduct electronic commerce [with the private sector] from their home or their car, they are going to insist on dealing with their government in the same way.'

Carolyn Purcell, executive director of Texas' Information Resources Department, cited research from Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government that found 'entrenched government cultures' are a major challenge facing CIOs. In its report, Eight Imperatives for Leaders in a Networked World, the school warned governments against creating 'a veneer [of digital government] in front and a scrambled mess behind,' Purcell said. The report is available online at www.ksg.harvard.edu/stratcom/hpg/eightimp.pdf.

Purcell also cited the problems of coping with the public's security and privacy concerns and assembling executive and legislative support for digital government initiatives.

Governments organized themselves many years ago into a series of vertical groups, she said. 'I think we need to take a step back and look at that. I think it will lead to a lot of services provided by government being organized functionally.'

Mike Hale, CIO of Georgia's Information Technology Policy Council, cited the 'extraordinarily difficult political environment' that challenges technology officials. 'The only way you're going to be successful is to have the backing of the governor,' he said of state CIOs.

Thomas M. Bostick, executive director of the Georgia Net Authority, the state's quasi-independent Web agency, said, 'I see a lot of people get very up on the idea that we have to build a portal. But they put it up, and there is nothing behind it. It's all smoke and mirrors.'

Keep your head

Charles F. Gerhards, Pennsylvania's deputy secretary for IT, told the audience of about 350 attendees that 'this is broader than just e-government. What this is about is transforming government. We are all in an e-frenzy now, but reorganizing procedures is where we will put most of our time.'

When state governments follow old routines while implementing digital government, the results can be disappointing, said Chris Ramsey, vice president of marketing development for the National Information Consortium.

'I see a lot of political stuff on the front page' of state Web sites, Ramsey said. 'If you don't know what department to go to, it can be very hard to find what you need.'

The digital divide concerned several conference speakers, including technology enthusiast Steve Goldsmith, former mayor of Indianapolis. Observing that Internet technology is spreading 11/2 times faster than PC technology did, he said, 'It's increasingly looking as if people who are offline will never be online.'

But state legislators' awareness of digital divide matters is lagging, said North Carolina Sen. Daniel Clodfelter. 'Many of my colleagues are at the very earliest stages of understanding what we are telling them when we discuss the digital divide,' he said.

Karl Cureton, founder of the National Minority Technology Council, said digital divide concerns require that state officials 'look at all our citizens when discussing high technology.' He added: 'When I look at the dot-coms, they are not representative of this country. In Virginia we are 23 percent minority. The new dot-coms are not minority in the same proportion.'

Sing out

NASIRE president and South Dakota CIO W. Otto Doll emphasized that the nonprofit group planned to launch projects to respond to the growth of digital government. 'We have to establish a national voice,' Doll said, emphasizing that NASIRE plans to create a national brand so it will be recognized as the nexus for information about state and local electronic government. 'NASIRE has to be able to communicate what it's about,' Doll said.

He added, 'This will also include enhancing service delivery through information sharing across state lines.'

NASIRE will focus on digital government, IT architecture integration, the digital divide and technology to assist the handicapped, Doll said.

'We're moving NASIRE forward on the issues, and communicating that these solutions are within the span of the CIOs,' he said.

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