Public-sector IT needs private-sector attention

Otto Doll

One of my pet peeves is that it seems new IT is never specifically made for government use. Beyond the defense industry, all new technology research, techniques and inventions are intended for use by the private sector. Considering the size of the federal civilian, state and local government markets, I find it odd that the IT industry aligns itself with government only from a marketing and sales position.

Few universities or IT vendors have research programs to develop IT products and policy for government use. One notable exception was the now-defunct Harvard Kennedy School of Government Strategic Computing Program. It was replaced by an electronic-government educational program directed primarily toward government leaders. But I see little research to produce new technology based on government needs.

Many of the IT techniques now in use by the government are designed for business. A good example of how such substitution backfires is the IT industry's attempt to apply e-commerce to e-government.

Trying to remove tax and shipping processes from e-commerce systems is difficult and tenuous at best'not the sort of foundation anyone would want e-government based on.

The IT industry needs to recognize that running a government is significantly different from running a business.

When I talk to researchers, they rarely indicate how their work can be applied to governance. These innovations will benefit government in the long run. We could expect better results if the technology was designed with government in mind?

At the top of my list of government's needs is improved data and application integration. Information systems put to use volumes of often complex data from many jurisdictions.

The public sector needs better IT development tools. Complex applications need to appear quickly from the design process. We can no longer take months to develop applications. Enterprise application integration and geographic information systems are only the start of innovations that could transform government.

The private sector also must work to close the digital divide. For instance, cell phones and radio communications are vital to state 911 services, but they lack total geographic coverage.
Only when industry has the public sector on its research agenda will governments realize the full potential of IT.

Otto Doll is the CIO of South Dakota.


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