most sense. For instance, the state now uses just one e-mail system, and deployed a network backbone called Network Nebraska, which serves government, higher-education institutions and 180 public schools scattered across Nebraska's more than 77,000 square miles.

Without relying on new appropriations to fund the project, Network Nebraska has lowered the state's public-sector networking costs by nearly 20 percent.

State, Collegiate Collaboration

Collaboration is especially important to Heineman in his quest for greater efficiency and less duplication of effort. As lieutenant governor, he strengthened the relationship between the state and its university system.

"We've done a much better job of bringing together the University of Nebraska and state government in a way that allows us to combine demand and drive down costs for a range of needs."

As governor, Heineman hopes to move more aggressively in developing ways for the state and the university to share IT resources more efficiently and productively.

Another part of the governor's IT strategy is improving the delivery of taxpayer services. "We need to focus on delivering services the taxpayers want, not the ones we think they need. It makes no sense to offer them something if they don't use it."

Heineman cited the superfluity of individual department Web pages as an example of government overkill. "Not every agency interacts with the public, making it unnecessary that they all have their own Web site."

He also noted that though taxpayers want government information, they don't really care where it comes from -- getting information quickly and easily is their main concern.

"Many times, the information they seek exists in two to four departments. We need to design Web sites so taxpayers can find all their information in one place, and quickly. Nobody wants to go through four different screens to find what they are looking for."

To that end, the state completely overhauled its homepage in 2005, making it easier for taxpayers to find information and do business with the government. Hundreds of services once available only on paper or in person are now online, and that includes local and state government services.

Heineman referred to the portal as Nebraska's "front porch to the rest of the world," emphasizing that it's not only more accessible than before, but it's also more inviting.

Economic Development and the Future

In December 2005, Japan lifted its ban on American beef following the mad cow disease outbreak in the United States in 2003, which had a significant impact on Nebraska's agricultural economy. In lieu of the ban, some restrictions applied, but it was front-page news in the state. Gov. Heineman even pitched in -- helping to load the first boxes of prime Nebraska beef bound for Japan.

Despite the upbeat news, Nebraska's growth in the 21st century won't be based on agriculture, as it was during most of the 20th century. Heineman recognizes that the new economy is about information, not farming. That's why he wants to utilize the state's collaborative relationship between the government and university system to lead Nebraska in the field of electronic health records.

"We want to be a leader in the whole arena of electronic medical records," said Heineman. "I've sat on a number of task forces looking at how we can integrate hospitals, physicians and the medical community into a system where you have access to your medical history wherever you are.

"If you are in California or Michigan, the issue is too big to be taken on at one time. But we think our state, with its two leading medical centers and its hospitals, is small enough where we all know each other and can work together to rise to the forefront of the issue."

After years of experience working with technology and government, Heineman knows that IT and business needs aren't always on the same page. Whether it's integrating information for better taxpayer services, centralizing IT contracts to eliminate costly duplication or collaborating with the state's academic center on mutual needs, Heineman knows that failure can be easily attributed to a lack of leadership.

"Top-level leadership is absolutely essential if you are going to get the job done. Whether you are the CEO of a company or governor, you have to be involved," he said. "It doesn't mean you have to be an expert on every single issue in technology, but you have to care about it, be passionate about [it], and be willing to provide the leadership to move your state forward."

Tod Newcombe  |  Contributing Editor