February 29, 2008 By Chad Vander Veen
It's amazing what a dedicated CIO and a visionary governor can do for a state. Look no further than Alabama, often regarded as a technologically marginal state steeped in small towns and country farms.
CIO Jim Burns, supported by Gov. Bob Riley, has transformed his state - now regarded as an innovator in government IT, and has been repeatedly recognized by the Center for Digital Government with multiple Best of the Web accolades.
To take even a brief look at Alabama.gov is to see a model of easy navigation and user-friendliness. The CIO said the inspiration for the site was found, in part, by emulating some of the best private-sector sites.
"It's a clean, easy-to-use site," Burns said. "We've got live help, so if you can't find something or don't know how to do something, you can get a live person to interact with you just like your bank and other modern businesses do."
Alabama.gov offers dozens of online licensing applications, helping everyone from nurses to truck drivers save time and money. Burns also helped drive cross-agency interoperability - the likes of which many states can only dream of. The sub-site Camellia.Alabama.gov, named for the state flower, represents much IT coordination and collaboration. Camellia users can answer 25 questions, without entering personal information, to find out if they're eligible for 29 different programs, including food stamps, Medicare, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and senior services.
"Using the existing infrastructure, we put [Camellia] together with seven different agencies," Burns said. "Their experts helped us build the algorithms that used the data that people entered to give them the answer to what they're eligible for. People don't have to show up at one office, fill out a bunch of paperwork and then get denied. They learn the programs for which they are eligible, so when they show up, they know they're going to get help. We're only one of two states that have done this. We're currently working on Camellia II, which will take it even further, and allow you to apply online for the programs."
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