Removing Barriers
Broadband Internet access will be a vital ingredient in Tennessee's economic growth, Bredesen said. "We want to make sure the technology infrastructure is present in the state in the form of broadband. IT at that level allows us to recruit technologically oriented companies."

But government should have a limited role in pushing broadband infrastructure in the state, according to the governor. First and foremost, neither the state nor localities should be in the broadband provider business, he said. "When I was mayor of Nashville, I never had an interest in [providing] citywide wireless. I don't think we could do that particularly well, and we would always be behind the times."

Instead, government should concentrate on removing legal barriers that hinder broadband growth and provide targeted subsidies or tax incentives to encourage private-sector growth.

The challenge is encouraging the private sector to build broadband in all segments of society, eliminating the disparity between Internet-rich suburbs and the broadband-poor inner cities and rural areas, including schools. Bredesen spoke philosophically about the old divide between communities that had four-lane roads and those that did not. Now, it's all about reaching communities with broadband - the informational roads of today.

When it comes to broadband and education, Bredesen said the state's public higher-education system is well wired. But the state needs to make more progress at the high-school level, especially in the form of distance-learning programs that let schools offer specialized classes for smaller groups of students. "That way, school districts don't have to figure out how to hire a teacher who's an expert in a subject that only interests 14 students," he said. With broadband, those teaching skills can be shared more readily.

 
Mixed Feelings
Like a growing number of state and local governments, Tennessee is consolidating its many data centers, e-mail servers and storage networks. Beginning in 2006, the state Office for Information Resources embarked on a massive IT consolidation initiative that has virtualized more than 117 servers thus far, with another 128 to go. The IT agency is deploying Oracle's grid computing concept, which allows for server clusters and the use of lower-cost processors. In addition, the state implemented a storage area network for enterprise storage.

Unlike some government CEOs, Bredesen has mixed feelings about using outsourcing to solve the persistent need for new and up-to-date technology. For instance, Tennessee opted not to outsource IT operations as part of its consolidation initiative because of its experience with TennCare.

"One of our biggest IT systems is our Medicaid program, which is outsourced," he pointed out. Technically the contract is up for bid every five years, but as Bredesen said, the contract and the company running the Medicaid system are both so large, nobody else bids on the contract; the advantage of competition is lost. The benefit of outsourcing, though, is that it lets the state inject expertise that it otherwise might not have into a program.

"Even though my background is as a businessman, I don't view privatization as a panacea. It's one of the tools in the box that has its pluses and minuses," Bredesen explained.

 
Cast in Stone
Bredesen said his IT policy for the state is grounded in the fundamentals. "We need to get our systems up to date, make sure we have a modern system to run social services, for example," he said. "It's not sexy, but you have to get [the basics] right, and the results will show up in our ability to provide better services."

Beyond simply making the technology work is the bigger issue of changing business processes so the state can maximize the benefit of new technology.

"There are things that are cast in stone here that, if I were a CEO of a company, I

Tod Newcombe  |  Features Editor