Unlike most state capitol buildings with their usual domes, Nebraska's center of government is a spire.

Built in 1932 with massive limestone blocks and rising more than 400 feet into the sky, the structure stands in defiance of the flat prairie landscape surrounding it. Built over 10 years, from 1922 to 1932, the Nebraska Capitol blends a range of architectural elements and themes, including Greek, Egyptian, Byzantine and Art Deco.

The American Institute of Architects declared it the fourth-ranking modern architectural wonder of the world.

The same optimism that led Nebraskans to build such a singular Capitol nearly 75 years ago still permeates state government today in the Cornhusker State. Despite having a static population that is only growing older and a farm-based economy that continues to shrink, Nebraska plans to grow with the 21st century, proclaimed Gov. Dave Heineman, and IT will be the catalyst.

"We have to grow our state. We do a great job of educating our children from kindergarten through the university level and then we export our kids to other states," he observed. "Our challenge is to create more good, high-paying jobs in Nebraska, to create more knowledge workers in our state, to reflect where the 21st century is headed."

Heineman took over as governor in January 2005, after his predecessor, Gov. Mike Johanns, resigned to become U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. Though Heineman just started as Nebraska's chief executive, he is no stranger to government or leadership. As lieutenant governor, he served as Nebraska's director of homeland security and as chairman of the Nebraska Information Technology Commission (NITC).

In his first statewide post as treasurer from 1994 to 1998, Heineman increased Nebraska's electronic commerce transactions from $58 million to nearly $1 billion.

As governor for a little more than one year, he has set an IT strategy in motion that supports his four priorities: education, economic development, efficiency in government and safe communities.

In mid-December 2005, Gov. Heineman met with Government Technology magazine at the Capitol in Lincoln to discuss his strategies and policies for technology in government, and his vision for its role in Nebraska's future.

Merging Policy and Operations

The governor's strategy starts with his CIO, Brenda Decker, who Heineman appointed in January 2005. His first move was to unify Decker's office with various IT and telecom operational groups scattered throughout state government. Previously the NITC and the state CIO set IT policy, while operations were under the Department of Administrative Services' control.

"I've brought Brenda's position as CIO into both a policy and operation mode," he said. "Far too often they are separated."

Having unity at the top is essential, Heineman stressed, because state government has many diverse responsibilities, such as collecting taxes, building roads, fighting crime and educating children. "The question is: How do you relate all those responsibilities in an integrated, unified structure?" he said.

Since amalgamating the state's IT policies and operations, Heineman pushed hard to reduce duplication of technology services, programs and projects. The most notable result is the centralization of purchasing agreements, especially for software licenses; and creative deals with vendors, such as an all-purpose contract for the state's numerous, multi-function printers that covers paper, toner and maintenance, saving the state a considerable amount of money in a short time period.

On a much larger scale, Heineman directed Decker to find ways the state can wring more efficiency through better centralization and use of IT.

"In Nebraska, we have our own digital divide within government," said Decker. "We have large agencies with access to federal funds, large IT systems and large IT staff. They can do the stuff that other, smaller agencies can't."

Decker has tried to find similarities among the departments and urge the concept of shared services where it makes the

Tod Newcombe  |  Contributing Editor