Digital Dogfight

Arizona tops tightly contested 2002 Digital State survey.

by / October 31, 2002
Arizona leads the nation in applying advanced technology to government operations. That's the conclusion of the 2002 Digital State survey, a year-long study of electronic government progress conducted annually by Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government and the Progress & Freedom Foundation.

Arizona, the fifth-place finisher in 2001, topped this year's contest by posting strong scores across each of Digital State's eight survey categories. The state earned perfect 100-point scores for its use of technology in social services, GIS and transportation, and education. It also ranked highly in other categories measuring progress in law enforcement and the courts, e-commerce and business regulation, taxation and revenue, digital democracy, and management and administration.

The state pioneered e-government transactions with initiatives such as Service Arizona, and it now renews more than 20 percent of vehicle licenses statewide via the Internet. Arizona recently unveiled an application allowing citizens to register to vote online as well.

The state's top-ranked finish stems from a long-term commitment to electronic service delivery, according Cathilea Robinett, executive director of the Center for Digital Government.

"Since 1992, Arizona has been building the governance structure, the technical infrastructure and enterprise view to support electronic government," said Robinett. "It's a gradual process, and they've worked steadily to put all the right pieces in place. Now, Arizona has essentially institutionalized e-government."

Michigan, powered by a reorganization that put all of the state's IT resources under one roof, jumped from No. 9 in 2001 to the No. 2 position in this year's survey. Like Arizona, Michigan earned a perfect score for automating social-service functions; it also managed impressive performances in the survey's digital democracy and taxation and revenue categories.

Gov. John Engler, who personally drove much of Michigan's e-government progress, said he is pleased with his state's performance.

"When we began the Michigan.gov Web portal, we set out to be the best by offering people the best in online services," said Engler. "The site has garnered over one dozen awards, and I'm proud that this latest honor cites the state of Michigan's technology excellence."

Washington, a perennial government IT powerhouse, held onto Digital State's No. 3 ranking for the second straight year, while last year's winner, Illinois, dropped to fourth place in 2002.

Fifth-ranked Wisconsin was one of several jurisdictions posting dramatic improvement this year, jumping from 14th place in 2001. In addition, Virginia went from 28th in 2001 to sixth this year. Indiana vaulted from 22nd to eighth, and Connecticut rose from 24th to 10th.

The survey also revealed some jurisdictions sliding in the opposite direction. Maryland dropped from No. 4 in 2001 to a 10th-place tie in 2002, and New Jersey toppled from seventh to 16th. California, wracked by a high-profile contracting scandal that claimed the state's CIO and director of e-government, fell from the top 25 altogether this year after posting a respectable 23rd-place finish in 2001.



Arizona Gets Creative
Arizona CIO Craig Stender said his state's first-place finish came against a backdrop of changing IT priorities triggered by the 9-11 disaster and a "tremendous" budget problem.

"We rely heavily on sales tax revenue, so our [budget] swings may be more wild than some other states. And we're on the wrong side of the swing right now," he said. "We've had to be creative. We've had a good vision for e-government, and we needed to exercise all the different types of funding to keep the progress going."

For example, the state recently used bonds to fund a massive initiative to automate and e-enable its human resources processes, Stender said. It also used performance-based contracting - called "gain sharing" in Arizona - and convenience fees to fund IT projects in other areas.

Although funding shortages complicated the task of implementing new IT systems in Arizona, they also prompted the state to take a new, and perhaps healthier, approach to financing technology initiatives, Stender said.

"To me it's like balancing your portfolio; we're not relying too much on one source of funds," he said. "It's better that we go out and see what kind of grant opportunities are out there. It's good for us to look at gain-sharing opportunities. It's good for us to look at bonding on certain types of IT projects."

Like most states, Arizona focused more attention on security and business continuity following the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The tragic event also helped fuel a drive to strengthen Arizona's decision-support systems and improve information sharing among public organizations.

Creating a statewide enterprise IT architecture is key to that effort, Stender said. The state defined a comprehensive technology framework covering networks, computing platforms, security, data and applications over the past year. As Arizona continues to refine the concept, Stender expects the enterprise architecture to deliver a series of benefits.

"Before, we had a disconnect between standards and buying decisions, and now we don't have that," he said. "It also prepares us for better data integration projects, which is the real golden nugget in all of this, because that's where true efficiencies come in. When you talk about really saving money, it's going to be on business re-engineering because of data sharing."

Some of that re-engineering already is underway. For example, a consolidation initiative reduced the number of large state mainframe computer systems from five to three. "That was pretty significant," said Stender. "But we still have work to do in telecommunications consolidation, and we're also looking at server consolidation."



Michigan's IT Overhaul
State CIO Jacque Passino said second-place Michigan is reaping the benefits of a massive portal and IT centralization effort spearheaded by Engler.

"The governor was intent on making progress and allocated money to do it. This year we really were building on the momentum of early investments and successes," Passino said. "At some point, it went from being the governor's e-Michigan initiative to the state's, and everybody really got on board and did a tremendous amount of work. I guess this survey is a reflection of that."

Michigan's IT overhaul began in late 2001 with the development of the Michigan.gov Web portal and the creation of a central information technology agency.

The Cabinet-level Michigan Department of Information Technology opened in the summer of 2001. Passino, appointed state CIO in November 2001, heads the agency and reports directly to the governor. The department oversees all state IT resources, including staff, budget, and hardware and software assets.

Michigan continued its centralization push this year by making the e-Michigan Office - which coordinates the development of online state government services - part of the Department of Information Technology and elevating e-Michigan Office Director Stephanie Comai to a Cabinet-level post.

"What's unique here is that literally every single IT resource that existed in state government is now part of the Department of Information Technology," said Comai. "That was something that was very intentional to make sure we had a unified IT strategy for the state."

The reorganization is paying off in a variety of ways, according to state officials. For example, it put Passino and Comai on equal footing with other state department heads. Combined with strong backing from Engler, that's helping Michigan standardize its approach to e-government.

So far, 100 individual government Web sites have been transferred to the Michigan.gov portal, providing citizens with a comprehensive resource for government information and services.

The portal has proven extremely popular with state residents, Comai said. "Before the launch of Michigan.gov, we had about 1,000 page views a day. That's now between 600,000 and 700,000 a day," she said. "There's clear evidence that the public sees this as a valuable tool."

The growing popularity of electronic services also helped Michigan cope with tighter budgets, according to Passino. "[Online transactions] are a huge cost savings for the state because you're going from a process that costs tens of dollars to visit a clerk at a physical location to one that costs a few cents when citizens do their business on the Web site," he said. "So it's attractive from a public standpoint, but it's vital from a state cost-structure standpoint."



Washington Seeks Innovation
Third-ranked Washington unveiled several advanced e-government applications over the course of 2002, said CIO Stuart McKee. Among the most significant was the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) "No Wrong Door" initiative, designed to give citizens easier access to social services benefits.

"[It] allows users to go directly to information about a variety of concerns and services," McKee said. "For example, clicking on the 'cash' icon will produce a menu of assistance programs that includes getting financial help for people with medical and drug/alcohol problems as well as for people unable to work. Hyperlinks lead the user to additional information and even to Web-enabled ways to apply for help."

McKee said solving cultural issues holds the key to e-government success.

"Surprisingly, the biggest challenge we face does not involve budgets, or knowing how to build an application, or even resources," he said. "The biggest challenge we face has to do with our business processes and to some degree with people who may sometimes be a little resistant to change."

To be successful in the digital age, governments must constantly rethink how they do things, instead of merely automating traditional operations, added McKee. "It is a dynamic process to merge a government culture into a technology culture, but it is absolutely vital. Technology doesn't solve problems, people solve problems."



Big Picture
The average overall score in this year's Digital State survey was 65 out of a possible 100 points, down from an average of nearly 70 points in 2001. However, the downturn reflects tougher measurement standards developed for 2002, not a slowdown in e-government activity.

Indeed, this year's survey - underwritten by American Management Systems (AMS) and Microsoft Corp. - was perhaps the most tightly contested in the history of the annual award program, according to the Center's Robinett.

"The top states are remarkably close. The stakes are higher than ever, and a single point can make a big difference in the standings," she said. "States are committed to digital government, and that commitment has really paid off. Digital government is finally becoming part of the DNA of government."

Overall, states made their strongest progress in Digital State's taxation and revenue category, where the average score neared 86 points out of 100. The category shows broad adoption of electronic tax applications across the nation.

For example, citizens may pay taxes online using credit cards, debit cards or electronic checks in 41 of the 45 states responding to the survey. Thirty-nine states electronically transfer tax refunds into citizens' bank accounts, and 37 states allow citizens to check the status of tax filings via the Internet.

Digital State's education and social services categories provided good news, as well.

The education category, where the average score topped 82 points, shows that public institutions are opening a wide range of electronic resources to teachers, parents and students.

For instance, 33 states said most of their public colleges and universities allow students to perform administrative functions online, and 37 states said most of their public higher-learning institutions offer online access to course syllabuses, class notes and other material.

Departments of education in 30 states now collect aggregate student academic records and performance data, and make that information available to parents and teachers. Twenty-seven states are implementing statewide technology training programs for K-12 teachers, and 24 states have created at least one major e-learning initiative.

Social services, traditionally one of the lower-scoring Digital State categories, rebounded somewhat in 2002. More than 80 percent of states responding to the survey have begun transferring social-service benefits electronically, and many citizens may now contact social-service caseworkers via e-mail.

On the other hand, less than half of the states offer the bulk of their social-service application forms online. Just 19 states allow citizens or their representatives to apply for social services benefits via the Internet.

This year's survey also shows states grappling with the task of implementing digital technologies in law enforcement agencies and the courts.

To some extent, all states now use video conferencing to provide telemedicine services to state inmates, to conduct hearings, to hold meetings between inmates and attorneys, and to provide family visitation. Twenty-two states said they use video conferencing technology in more than half of their state prisons. Furthermore, all states responding to the survey now let citizens access some portion of state court decisions online without charging a fee.

But just 22 states have rolled out digital mobile technologies to at least half of their state police officers. And only 19 states currently accept court pleadings, motions and brief filings online, although such systems are being piloted in a handful of additional states.