March 2, 2005 By Government Technology
"We're the only state that has mandated electronic filing of charitable solicitations," she said. "Such organizations can't file paper in our state. It's all electronic."
Perhaps the biggest technology challenge facing Davidson's office is complying with the Help America Vote Act. "We are currently building a voter registration and election management system that will integrate all election records for the 64 counties," Davidson said. "In addition, the new statewide voter registration system will automatically download updated information from three state departments."
Updated information will be received by the Department of Motor Vehicles, Colorado Department of Corrections and the Department of Vital Statistics, she said, and the automatic connection with these statewide departments will automatically update the statewide voter registration list.
"If a voter dies, the Department of Vital Statistics will immediately notify the Secretary of State's Office so that voter will be removed from the voter rolls," she said. "This comprehensive system will keep the state voter rolls much cleaner."
-- Shane Peterson, Associate Editor
Center for Technology in Government
Pioneering Digital Government
Can technology really change the way government works, improve the way it collaborates and shares information, and ultimately make life better for citizens?
Perhaps the only organization that has tried consistently to find answers to that question is the Albany, N.Y.-based Center for Technology in Government (CTG).
Since 1993, when she took over as director at CTG, Sharon Dawes has used partnerships, research and technology to build the knowledge that federal, state and local governments need to increase productivity, reduce costs, enhance quality and deliver better services.
The results have been both consistent and impressive:
The specifics from just a few projects run under Dawes' leadership are equally impressive. The CTG, in partnership with the National Science Foundation, helped New York's Department of Motor Vehicles streamline how it issues vehicle titles by 70 days, saving the agency $3 million. It showed how the Adirondack Park Agency could cut customer waiting time by 99 percent. Most recently, CTG built a prototype that would allow local governments to sign on once to access multiple state databases and information systems -- no simple feat.
It's the kind of project that has made the center a pioneer in digital government research.
Having begun her career in government, working for one of the biggest state agencies in the country -- the New York State Department of Social Services -- Dawes understands the challenges and opportunities for public agencies and the overall government enterprise. She expanded her knowledge and leadership in the field while executive director of the New York State Forum for Information Resource Management and as an executive fellow at the Rockefeller Institute of Government.
The secret behind CTG's success and what Dawes is most proud of is the center's "Smart IT" methodology that focuses on the earliest stages of IT initiatives -- defining the real problem, engaging stakeholders, understanding processes, considering alternatives and selecting key strategies before making commitments.
The methodology works because of the center's dedicated team of researchers, according to Dawes.
"Staff members here are stellar as individuals and as a team," she said. "I take great pride in having recognized their talent, and then watched them build relationships with government, academic and corporate partners that have made a difference."
-- Tod Newcombe, Features Editor
Connecting Scattered Communities
South Dakota is a large state with few people, but CIO Otto Doll helped span the distance between scattered communities with a statewide radio system.
The system has more than 10,000 users, including law enforcement officers, firefighters, ambulance drivers, hospital emergency rooms, health clinics, transit bus drivers and state public safety officials.
"The state established one system where everyone can talk to anyone else," Doll said. "As one would find if you come here to South Dakota, being small, being spread out, very often we need the support, we need the resources of neighboring communities. So it was very important for us to establish something that was ubiquitous across the whole state."
South Dakota also has been quite successful at deploying technology in its K-12 school systems. "We're always able to implement capabilities, whether it's access to the Internet; high-speed access to the Internet; providing e-mail to all teachers, administrators and students; hosting their Web sites, etc.," Doll said.
South Dakota help every school in the state tap into advanced IT resources, Doll said. "We wired every school in the state, all 660 school buildings, back in the '90s. We interconnected all of them through the high-speed wiring network the state has. We have video conferencing to every high school, every junior high, a number of the elementary schools, state offices, etc.," he said. "We didn't implement it in just some school districts or some percentage -- it's 100 percent."
One principle that guides Doll's IT activities is the need to use taxpayer dollars efficiently.
"You can look at my organization's strategic plan, and you'll see the first two strategies are sort of two sides of the same coin," he said. "On one hand, of course, we want to reduce the cost of IT wherever possible, but on the other hand, we want to reduce agency cost through use of IT."
-- Jessica Jones, Managing Editor
Jennifer M. Granholm
Building an Economic Powerhouse
The United States has two foreign-born governors. One actor-turned-politician has grabbed plenty of headlines and publicity as he runs the nation's most populous state. The other, a mother of three originally from Vancouver, B.C., is governor of Michigan, a state with an industrial economy buffeted by the challenges of the Information Age and globalization.
Like so many other governors sworn into office in 2002, Jennifer Granholm immediately tackled a massive budget deficit of $3 billion, leaving her little room to maneuver in launching new programs and other initiatives. Instead, she put her efforts into reviving an economy that lost a substantial number of high-paying jobs (unemployment in Michigan reached 7 percent in November 2004) while finding scarce funds for her priorities, including education, children and health care.
Despite the obstacles, Granholm boosted the state's use of technology. Perhaps her most striking move was to hire Teresa Takai as Michigan's CIO. Takai -- with the solid backing of the governor -- moved quickly to put the state's IT infrastructure and services on a more corporate model, where enterprise solutions, good governance and accountability take precedence.
Results emerged quickly. In September 2004, the National Association of State Chief Information Officers recognized two of Michigan's IT solutions for their excellence. The Electronic Filed Unemployment Claims Project allows citizens to submit unemployment claims from their homes using the Internet or phone. Since the system's launch, the state closed 43 branch offices and reduced paperwork..
Michigan's Critical Incident Management System is a Web-based application using GIS that aids numerous first responders around the state. Users can share information in real time.
In 2004, the Center for Digital Government ranked Michigan No. 1 in its annual Digital States Survey, citing how the state changed the citizen and business experience through a broad suite of real-time transactional services.
"We're using information technology to support and enhance the core functions of Michigan government, and to position our state as a global economic powerhouse in the 21st century," said Granholm when the rankings were announced. "Information technology is playing a critical role in every aspect of our work."
-- Tod Newcombe, Features Editor
Dr. Michael Hall
Deputy State Superintendent, Information Technology
Georgia Department of Education
Changing the Course of Education
When Michael Hall became principal of Houston County High School in Warner Robins, Ga., seven years ago, the school had fewer than 100 computers and no network in place. When Hall left last year, Houston County High was one of only two schools in the country named "Best of the Best" in the 2004 Twenty-First Century Schools of Distinction Award Program.
Based on that track record, Hall was appointed by the Georgia Department of Education in 2004 to oversee administrative, educational and internal technology for the entire state. He also oversees the department's statewide Student Information System project.
"I like the challenge of solving today's problems or developing new strategies with solutions that weren't invented 10 years ago and change so rapidly," Hall said. "Changes made in public-sector IT greatly impact the direction and sustainability of our society as we know it."
Hall turned Houston County High into one of the few completely wireless schools in Georgia. More than 1,200 computers, 13 wireless labs and nine fixed labs now play an integral part in students' daily education at the facility.
Hall said his biggest challenge is helping people understand the role of IT in a digital society.
"Education is an area of the public sector that has the greatest impact on our future success, but yet is the least receptive to change," he said. "Providing 21st century learning environments for students today requires both philosophical and pedagogical changes. Twenty-first century learning environments promote student engagement, collaboration and individualized learning plans. Technology changes the role of the teacher to one of being a facilitator of information rather than the source of information."
Hall said health care, economic development and education top his list of the biggest challenges facing government today.
"Each area carries its own unique obstacles, and yet they also significantly impact the success of each other," he said. "Government will be required to make some tough choices on priorities and funding will be a major issue. Government will also be faced with some new IT challenges that will cause a significant change in the status quo. Connectivity, mobility and capability of digital cities are going to drastically change the way government functions and the types and number of services offered."
-- Shane Peterson, Associate Editor
Sarasota County, Fla.
Committed to Collaboration
Bob Hanson sees the big picture.
Hanson led Sarasota County's effort to acquire a massive data center that serves as a focal point for regional collaboration. He's consolidating countywide school and government data networks to unlock IT dollars for other projects. And he's working with two other counties to create a disaster recovery cooperative that would allow the jurisdictions to back each other up in case of emergency.
Hanson views collaboration as the future for government, and he's building a track record that proves the wisdom of that approach.
Several years ago, he convinced county officials to buy Arthur Andersen's Sarasota data center after the firm sank under the weight of multiple accounting scandals. Now the $12 million facility -- purchased by Sarasota for about $2 million -- provides a bulletproof platform for county applications, and delivers an advanced budgeting and finance system to neighboring communities through an application service provider (ASP) arrangement.
"The data center had the capacity to serve as a magnet to induce collaboration -- that's what inspired us on the ASP model," Hanson said. "Budget directors from six different communities now partner on this, so we have six minds working on how to best do this process. We're all getting a tremendous system for a sixth of the cost."
Hanson, named CIO of the county school board late last year, sees similar benefits in combining separate school and government networks and data centers. "Bringing those two organizations together makes so much sense within our community," he said.
Spurred by a relentless hurricane season, he's also forming a regional disaster recovery cooperative with his counterparts in Florida's Martin and Collier counties.
"If Sarasota County got hit and I lost some critical systems, I could roll them over to Martin County -- which is across the state," Hanson said. "We would be sharing each other's facilities to address critical needs."
Backed by forward-thinking county leaders and a talented IT staff, Hanson said he intends to continue searching for opportunities to collaborate. "I think this is how governments will leapfrog past the private sector."
-- Steve Towns, Editor
Westchester County, N.Y.
Untangling Government Complexity
When Norman Jacknis was in the private sector, he could grumble about issues, but couldn't do much about them. "Here, if I see a problem, I can help solve it," he said.
Among Westchester County government's biggest challenges is homeland security, and since the county is just north of New York City, it was impacted by 9/11. "We've had everything from setting up a bio-terrorism analysis network where we collect and integrate data from all the emergency rooms around the county, to actually writing our own software for managing emergencies, for handling mass care situations," Jacknis said. "We're creating a wireless data network so we can video conference from the scene of an emergency."
A long-term challenge, Jacknis said, is simplifying government's interaction with citizens. Many agencies assume citizens understand complex government structures; therefore, people can spend hours trying to figure out which department to contact for a particular service.
"We've got to do something about that," Jacknis said. "It's getting worse because a lot of us are putting more and more information on our Web sites. We've got, I think, one of the most successful Web sites around, just in terms of the number of people who actually use it, but I'm sure they're not getting the full potential out of it."
Besides Westchester's success in creating a 500-mile fiber network connecting all government offices, libraries and local police departments a few years ago, Jacknis points to the county's Web site as a significant accomplishment. "More adults used our Web site in the last 12 months than who subscribe to either of the major newspapers in the county," he said, adding that reaching the public has been an issue.
"We're in the New York metropolitan area, but there is no local television or radio news station, because everything's centered in Manhattan. So this has become a very important mechanism for us to communicate to the public," said Jacknis. "And we've gone beyond the Web. We have voice recognition, so you can get on your telephone, call up our computers and talk to a computer to find out where the cheapest gasoline price is in your neighborhood."
-- Jessica Jones, Managing Editor
Thomas M. Jarrett
CIO/Secretary, Department of Technology and Information
Starting From Scratch
Tom Jarrett became Delaware's first CIO in September 2001. His first assignment? Get a brand-new, Cabinet-level department off the ground and running in two years.
The Department of Technology and Information (DTI), created by the General Assembly in June 2001 to replace the state's Office of Information Services, officially opened for business in May 2003. Perhaps the most shocking thing about the new agency is that DTI employees work outside the protections of the state's civil service system.
Jarrett said the process, while certainly not easy, wasn't as much of a nightmare as it could have been.
"Being a part of that process and infusing a lot of new people into the organization, I've truly enjoyed working with an excellent group of people who are smart, very motivated and share the same set of values I have," Jarrett said.
"It's a challenge I don't think anybody can truly appreciate. Even the people who charged us with doing it don't truly appreciate how difficult it is to dissolve an organization and build a new one from scratch," he said. "From scratch means redesigning every job description, the pay scales, everything, and in less than 18 months."
Initial results show agencies are pleased with the DTI's day-to-day work so far, and Jarrett's employees now can focus on entrepreneurial ideas. The state is in the middle of several ERP implementations, including replacing Delaware's entire financial system.
The biggest IT challenge to governments overall is effective lobbying for IT, he said, citing a fear that IT, once again, is being viewed as just another capital expense -- an expense that's tempting to cut first.
"We need to put a human face on IT because a lot of people never think about that," he said. "They just want to talk about the boxes and the commodity aspect of IT. Well, the boxes don't make it all work. People make it all work."
-- Shane Peterson, Associate Editor
Reshaping the IT Landscape
Sen. Ted Kanavas -- who spent 12 years in the software industry before being elected to the Wisconsin Senate in 2001 -- uses his experience and knowledge to reshape Wisconsin's IT landscape.
Kanavas is committed to creating a more streamlined statewide IT infrastructure and pivoting that into a healthy fiscal policy. "Wisconsin is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on IT, and we have to know where everything is and what we have on hand," he said. "Streamlining our IT will put us on a path to fiscal sanity."
Part of that process, Kanavas said, is changing the culture of government. "Government's biggest challenge is the idea that the state cannot continue down the bureaucratic pathway. It must end the mindset that government is just government and cannot be run like a business. Government needs to get away from the idea that all state agencies and entities are separate when it comes to IT."
The big hurdle to that end is a lack of knowledge about information infrastructure and how to run a business, Kanavas said. "Most state employees have not spent much time outside of public service. They have gotten trapped in a culture where there is little concern about the state going bankrupt."
Kanavas has pushed to make Wisconsin one of the nation's top 10 states in terms of broadband deployment, which he views as a key ingredient for economic growth.
Prior to becoming senator, he and two friends founded Premier Software Technologies, which provided middleware solutions
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