This year's Digital State Survey found states grappling with budget shortfalls in an election year in which more than half the states could see new administrations as well as significant changes in other key offices. Although state officials expressed concern about these issues, most were optimistic about the budget's effects on technology and were confident of broad bipartisan support for technology programs. Several states said that, although IT systems can have considerable up-front costs, legislators do understand their long-term value. In Washington, which recently dealt with a $1 billion budget shortfall, the Department of Licensing's ambitious rollout of 10 new applications is on schedule.

"We are not only going to be able to go forward with them, we are being encouraged to do more." said Fred Stephens, director of the Department of Licensing. Each application transfers data entry work to the customer.

"What our constituents and legislators are finding out, is these are cost-saving opportunities," Stephens said.

Gerry McDougall, deputy director of the Department of Licensing, admitted the first few applications were expensive. "But we built an infrastructure that allows us to do the remainder of these things with very little upgrade or additions," he said.

And, as in the past, budget shortfalls have stimulated innovation and helped encourage enterprise thinking. Planning is tighter, management more cost-conscious, and information systems are part of the solution. And as budget trimming continues, service keeps improving.

"Taxpayers can do business with us any time of the day or night, any day of the week, with a computer and a credit card," said Stephens.

E-Commerce and Business Regulation
"Electronic commerce/business regulation is the most citizen-facing category in the Digital State Survey," said Cathilea Robinett, executive director of the Center for Digital Government, the knowledge-management and research division of e.Republic. "It represents true online government and this year's survey reflects great strides in payment options and transactional 'beyond-PDF' government. Both Virginia and Washington have been working extremely hard in this area."

Kent Lassman, director of the Digital Policy Network and a research fellow of The Progress & Freedom Foundation, noted the rapidity of change in this particular arena.

"With nearly half of the top-10 states improving their ranks from last year, double-digit climbs up the rankings by three states and five newcomers to the top-10 rankings, this category shows how an initial adoption of technology is not enough to stay ahead. States are continually improving and, as a result, the front of the pack is a volatile place to be."

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles has 19 online transactions, including online driver's license renewal, which it first offered in December 1999. It offers information wirelessly to PDAs and plans to offer transactions wirelessly as well. Offline, the department offers a speech-recognition application.

"It gives customers the ability to call in and speak their way through the insurance verification transaction," said Lana Shelley of the DMV. The new application uses the back-end XML interface of an existing Web-based insurance verification application.

The Department of Taxation developed a time-saving online business registration application. The business registration process took two or three weeks to complete on paper, but now can be completed online in 20 minutes, according to Robert Schultze, executive commissioner of the Department of Taxation. In addition, applications are integrated with the Employment Commission so information need only be entered once for use by both agencies.

Jean Tingler, director of information technology for the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, said being first to market means out-competing other states and even countries for economic development opportunities. Virginia Scan is helping the state do just that.

"We have up-to-date information on all the potential industrial sites and buildings," Tingler explained. Data includes

Wayne Hanson  |  Senior Executive Editor, Center For Digital Government