October 22, 2008 By Steve Towns
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Top finishers in the 2008 Digital States survey claimed their awards at a ceremony in late September in Milwaukee.
Cathilea Robinette, executive director of the Center for Digital Government, presented awards to representatives from the top 25 states. She noted that the Digital States Survey has grown in stature since its launch more than 10 years ago.
"We've been doing this since 1997 and it's been quite something to watch the changes with technology in government, she said. "Today it's interesting to see the competition among the states, particularly among the governors, for the Digital States rankings."
The survey, which is conducted every two years, rates states on how well they use technology to serve citizens and streamline internal government operations. After the award ceremony, CIOs from several top-ranked states talked about their efforts.
Utah won the top spot thanks to its extensive use of e-government services. The state portal offers more than 800 services online -- with many boasting high user adoption rates. Those electronic services played a key role in letting Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. close most state offices on Fridays -- a move designed to lower energy consumption and cut carbon emissions.
"We expect to save more than $3 million a year on energy costs by closing down the offices," said Utah CIO Steve Fletcher. "Another benefit is that employees won't spend the cost of a commute on that day."
Utah also is building high-speed Internet connections throughout the state -- with schools and state offices serving as the network's anchor tenants. That digital infrastructure will allow the state to move jobs into economically depressed areas, Fletcher said. For example, Utah is deploying an online social services system that lets state eligibility workers do their jobs anywhere there's an Internet connection.
"We can move these workers anywhere in the state. They just need access to these programs online and they can take the calls from anywhere. We set them up, they work at home, and they have this wonderful opportunity to get a better income," Fletcher said. "We probably have 800 eligibility workers, 300 of them are now working online."
Second-ranked Michigan has been one of the Digital State Survey's most consistent performers, capturing first place in 2004 and in 2006. The state has been a leader in consolidating and centralizing IT staff and equipment. Those changes save money, but the real goal is to transform how Michigan uses technology, according to state CIO Ken Theis.
"We've done a lot of great things around consolidation, but it's really trying to move IT from just a support organization to an organization that is driving the strategic initiatives," Theis said. "For the first five or six years, the state of Michigan was about consolidation and about taking money out of the system. We reduced our expenses by about 24 percent over the last six years, and saved the state about $100 million."
Theis added that his organization has carefully aligned its activities with the policy priorities of Gov. Jennifer Granholm. "We've been extremely instrumental in pushing the use of technology to redefine how we provide services -- not only for citizens, but to transform how we interact with businesses," he said. "It's important to ease their entry into state government services, given some of the economic difficulty the state has."
California made one of the biggest jumps in this year's survey, moving from 16th in 2006 to fifth in 2008. State CIO Teri Takai said the improvement stems from closer coordination among agencies and better alignment between IT activities and policy priorities. She said the state's making progress despite massive budget challenges.
"In a critical budget situation like what we have today in California, it's really about using the dollars that we have effectively. It's interesting. We are still spending a significant amount of money in the state on technology, and now we have an imperative not to do it in silos, to do it on an enterprise basis," Takai said. "You can actually get a lot of that critical infrastructure work moving -- maybe not as fast as you'd like it. Maybe it's phased, maybe you do it differently, but you do it by using the money that you have and making the most of it."
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