As 2001 drew to a close, there was concern about the future of electronic government. There was speculation that projects might be abandoned as priorities shifted to homeland security information management. Although attention and funding certainly shifted in response to the events of Sept. 11, there slowly emerged a renewed commitment to support and continue the progress states made in developing digital government over the past year.
Information technology leaders agree that citizens will want more information than ever from their government. They predict important technology initiatives will move forward, just as most Americans go on with their lives. Priorities will shift toward the security arena, but the momentum that drives the nation's top digital states will continue.
The 2001 Digital State Survey demonstrated there is a foundation for continued growth in the coming year, said to Cathilea Robinett, executive director of the Center for Digital Government, the knowledge-management and research division of e.Republic. "Certainly, states will be challenged to fine-tune their efforts and collaborate as never before," she said. "But the results of the survey show that governments clearly understand that technology is a tool to accomplish the nation's collective mission."
In addition, Robinett pointed out that the 2001 list of top digital states includes many newcomers, yet another sign of the growing importance of electronic government.
There was a significant change to the No. 1 spot in this year's survey, with Illinois and Kansas sharing the position. Illinois moved up from the previous year's fourth place ranking and Kansas from second place, displacing three-time consecutive winner, Washington state, which moved to third position.
According to Illinois Chief Technology Officer Mary Barber Reynolds, the message to stay on track with digital government is coming from the top. "It is Gov. George Ryan who has encouraged us. He constantly reinforces how important technology is," she said. "He puts this opinion into practice by putting funding into IT and making it an emphasis. Employees are saying they are not only allowed, but encouraged, to use technology in innovative ways."
To achieve top ranking, Illinois had to score extremely well in a number of areas. For example, the state placed in the top 10 in six of the eight areas measured. Again, Reynolds points to her boss. "The executive support is crucial to all that we do," she said. "We have him behind us. He gets additional money even in tight budget years. His leadership has been the key."
This message resonates throughout Illinois government. Reynolds said that too often government employees are not encouraged to be innovative. Not so in her state. "We have asked employees to second-guess how we can use technology," she said. "It really is eye-opening when there is encouragement and support."
Kansas CIO Don Heiman traces his state's success to its early efforts to deal with groundwater management - an issue he calls critical for the mostly-rural state. Subsequently, an online GIS tool was built for managing the state's water supplies. The system crossed agency boundaries and even included local governments. That architecture, Heiman explained, became the backbone of the Information Network of Kansas. With standards in place, and interagency cooperation already established, the state was poised to glean benefits from its IT investment. "It allows us to drill down and coordinate training, to do better negotiations for products and equipment, to do important things in security," he said. "The infrastructure is so enabling when it is done well, because it tears down walls."
Kansas was the only state to score in the top 10 ranks in seven of the eight areas surveyed.
Models for Electronic Government
Washington moved to third place in this year's Digital State survey, continuing to make a distinguished showing. The state was ranked in the top 10 in six of the eight categories, falling short in the digital democracy arena and taxation and revenue. Washington