Demand for IT high despite slow economy

Demand for IT high despite slow economy

State and local governments find that they need efficient systems more than ever


State and local government officials at this year's State of the States briefing in Falls Church, Va., were surprisingly bullish on information technology, given the gloom and doom sentiments hanging over the nation's economy.

Washington, D.C., has retooled its Web sites, CTO Suzanne J. Peck says.
'If Federal Sources Inc. was a brokerage, we'd rate state and local governments a 'buy,' ' said Jim Kane, president and chief technology officer of FSI of McLean, Va., which held the conference.

In a presentation titled 'State Outlook 2001,' Kane predicted that the state and local government IT market will grow by 5.4 percent in fiscal 2001, compared with the federal market, which is expected to grow by 4.5 percent.

The growth is predicted even as half of the states are coping with budget cuts as a result of the economic slowdown, said Aldona Valicenti, chief information officer of Kentucky.

North Carolina faces a budget crisis that is squeezing its IT operations, CTO Michael Fenton says.
CIOs and others in attendance agreed that, even if the economy struggles and budgets shrink, states cannot do without IT investment.

'The genie is out of the bottle,' Kane said. 'I think one can make an effective argument with legislatures that IT is a way to substitute capital for labor and increase efficiency.'

'If every day we're not focused on our IT legacy, we won't have a legacy at all,' said Suzanne J. Peck, chief technology officer of Washington, D.C.

At a roundtable later during the one-day conference, Peck talked about the progress the D.C. government has made on the IT front, much of which she credited to mayor Anthony Williams. 'Two and a half years ago in the D.C. government, you couldn't hire anyone or buy anything,' Peck said. 'Now, after a decade of disinvestment in IT, we're spending 80 percent of our time building IT infrastructure.'

Keep it simple

New Jersey CIO Wendy Rayner supports sharing and reusing software among states.
Peck and her team have given every agency link on the city's Web portal, at, a similar look and feel, and made it easier for visitors to find out about city services. 'How many times has someone gone to a Web portal to find an organization's mission statement?' Peck asked. 'Zero. Zero. It just doesn't happen.'

Movin' on up

New Jersey CIO Wendy Rayner agreed. 'The business of IT is the business of state government today,' she said. Investing in networks and new technology is more important than year 2000 remediation was, Rayner said. 'Believe me, I don't want to stay in the Cobol era.'

Despite the upbeat outlook, conference attendees did not preach a message of endless prosperity for state IT departments. North Carolina CTO Michael Fenton's budget has been cut by 25 percent this year. The state is still paying for recovery from the hurricane damage of the past few years, Fenton said. Even so, Gov. Michael F. Easley is looking to IT as one of the ways to get out of the financial crisis, he said.


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