January 13, 2008 By Tod Newcombe
Nashville, Tenn., might be the nation's country music capital, but it's all business in the statehouse, where Gov. Phil Bredesen has resided since 2002. Bredesen draws on his experience as a computer programmer and health-care executive as he leads the nation's 16th most-populous state
Bredesen said his goal is to modernize how state operations run - and that includes information technology. "My priorities have been twofold," he told Government Technology magazine. "I want to leave behind better internal systems than the ones I found when I became governor. Second, I want to keep exploring how we use IT to deliver services to the outside world. That's a little more complex than putting up another Web page."
Re-elected in 2006 in a landslide victory, Bredesen has made education a priority, boosting teachers' pay and expanding the state's pre-kindergarten program, while also trying to raise high-school graduation rates. Other priorities for Bredesen - who was Nashville's mayor from 1991 to 1999 - include increasing the number of jobs in the state, enhancing government transparency and improving health care.
While the governor sticks to the big picture when it comes to IT, he's quite comfortable with the subject matter. After working as a computer programmer, Bredesen launched his own IT firm between stints as mayor and governor. In 1980, he founded HealthAmerica Corp., a health-care management firm.
He recognizes both the potential and challenge that comes with trying to use IT to deliver something as complex as government services. As a former businessman, he understands the value that technology brings to improving the business process; at the same time, he realizes there's a cost to IT and it must be viewed as a tool - not a panacea.
Governing IT at Three Levels
Bredesen sees three primary roles for IT in his state: simplifying state operations, improving service delivery and boosting economic development.
For instance, Tennessee used IT to reduce complexity and improve the performance of its Medicaid system. "We offer a huge array of services. Those are all areas where IT cannot only save the state money, but also allow us to better serve the public," he said.
When Bredesen became governor in 2002, the state's Medicaid program, known as TennCare, was in deep financial trouble. To help turn it around, the governor used IT to improve core business functions. The state completely overhauled TennCare's management information system, allowing it to take advantage of new programs and service delivery methods. As a result, TennCare turned the corner. What once was complex, hard to run and a magnet for bad press is now a "much quieter, more invisible piece" of government operations, according to Bredesen.
Another example of IT's potential to streamline complex operations is Tennessee's enterprise resource planning (ERP) initiative, nicknamed Project Edison. The $150 million implementation will simplify everything from state purchasing and human resources to financials and accounting. "Project Edison is also an opportunity for us to relook at other processes and workflows in the state, and will ultimately lead us to make changes in the law itself to recognize the different world of 2008 from when a lot of this stuff was first put together," explained Bredesen.
In addition, the governor is using the state's Web portal - ranked best in its class in 2005 by the Center for Digital Government - to bring more state functions online. Services available on Tennessee.gov range from hunting and fishing licenses to insurance applications for the state's new health-care program for the uninsured. What's important, according to Bredesen, is keeping the site current. "The Web site is a dynamic thing we have to keep up to date. When new things happen, we have to make sure we can incorporate them."
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