Photo: Utah Governor Jon Huntsman Jr.
Utah topped the Center for Digital Government's 2008 Digital States Survey after delivering the clearest evidence yet that electronic delivery of government services has matured.
To reduce energy costs and carbon emissions, Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. announced in June that most state offices would be closed on Fridays. With more than 800 state government services online -- many boasting high user adoption rates -- Utah could close physical offices statewide without inconveniencing citizens.
Paul Taylor, chief strategy officer for the center and a member of the Digital States judging panel, said Utah's move signals a tipping point for electronic government services.
"Utah demonstrates that you can close offices on a normal office day, and people can still conduct real business with their government," said Taylor. "This is what the ATM did for the banking industry. It reduced branch hours, but cash was still available. Ten years later, we're reducing government office hours, but government's still available."
The Top 10
Utah's winning performance in this year's survey -- conducted biannually by the Center for Digital Government -- caps a steady rise in the state's rankings. Utah finished eighth in 2004 and fourth in 2006.
Taylor described the 2008 survey as one of the most competitive in the Digital States' decade-long history. Utah beat out two of the survey's most consistent performers -- Michigan and Virginia -- to win the top spot this year. Michigan finished second after topping the survey in 2004 and 2006. Virginia -- this year's third-place finisher -- took second in 2006 and third in 2004.
The 2008 Digital States Survey measured state governments' progress on an array of citizen self-service technologies -- including Internet portals, applications and Web 2.0 features like blogs, wikis, social networks and mash-ups. The survey also evaluated state IT programs overall, with measures of the alignment of architecture, infrastructure, policy, planning, methodologies and organizational maturity.
Focus on Service
Photo: Utah CIO Steve Fletcher
Deploying e-services has been a long-term goal for Huntsman, said Utah CIO Steve Fletcher.
"Our governor really has been focusing on trying to provide not just better IT, but also better services for our citizens," Fletcher said. "He's also very concerned about energy consumption and being green. So our performance in the 2008 survey is the culmination of a lot of things."
The widespread availability and popularity of e-government services were key in Huntsman's decision to implement a four-day workweek for most state operations. "The only way he could pull that off is if we have enough online services so that citizens still had access to government," Fletcher said.
Utah -- which claims to have more online services available than any other state -- has steadily moved common government transactions online. The Web is now the state's default delivery
channel for everything from fishing and hunting license purchases to various law enforcement and social service transactions. And unlike e-government's early days when electronic services struggled to gain traction, online interactions account for most transactions for many Utah state services.
For instance, 64 percent of eligible Utah drivers renew drivers' licenses online, versus 31 percent by mail and 4 percent at a DMV office, according to the state. In addition:
Fletcher attributes the high adoption rates to several factors, the foremost being close attention to the business motivations for putting a particular service online.
"It's not about just putting a bunch of stuff online," he said. "You really need to work the business agencies to determine what you're trying to accomplish. If the business really drives the process and sees value in providing a service, then you get a much better adoption rate."
In addition, Utah boasts a computer-literate population that's hungry for e-government transactions. "We have a very willing audience; they're capable and don't mind going online to get services," Fletcher said.
The long-running Digital States Survey provides a national benchmark for states' progress on doing business electronically.
"Since our inaugural survey in 1997, we've seen a steady advance in quality of technology solutions implemented by state governments for their citizens," said Cathilea Robinett, executive director of the Center for Digital Government. "The bar is constantly being raised by public-sector technology leaders creating top-notch services."
The 2008 survey -- which was sponsored by Verizon Business -- reviewed all 50 states and shows several e-government offerings reaching maturity.
More than 80 percent of states provide online transactions for business and individual tax filing and payment, unemployment insurance applications, professional license renewals, motor vehicle registration renewals, and Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) searches and filings. Deployment rates for most of these services have changed little since the 2006 Digital States Survey, indicating these offerings are almost fully built out nationwide.
In contrast, growth of online customer care applications jumped significantly, as state governments responded to citizens' desire for after-hours help with e-government-related problems.
"If you think about where we are in the life cycle of e-government, the maturation of electronic services creates demand for an after-hours help desk," Taylor said. "So these customer care applications are there to make transactions go right. They can handle problems with credit card numbers and technical glitches. For governments, it's the new cost of doing business."
States also are putting considerable effort into Web 2.0 applications, according to the 2008 survey. More than a quarter of states created wikis for sharing collaborative information. Ninety percent of states use really simple syndication (RSS) feeds to broadcast information to interested users and 72 percent use podcasts within executive branch agencies. Half of the states use text messaging, 46 percent use mash-ups and 44 percent use blogs.
Behind the Scenes
Along with measuring electronic service delivery, the 2008 survey also evaluated states on planning and policy issues that are critical to digital government success. Among the findings:
For the first time, the 2008 survey also benchmarked states' green IT and sustainability activities. Environmental issues drew growing attention from political leaders this year, a factor that was reflected in the survey results.
Half of states said their IT strategies and practices are well aligned with the state's environmental sustainability program. Furthermore, 98 percent of survey respondents said they have consolidated and virtualized data centers and servers. Although consolidation initiatives usually aren't undertaken for strictly environmental reasons, they tend to deliver green benefits like lower energy consumption.