The year we've left behind was characterized by international conflicts with immediate domestic implications. On home soil we experienced some unprecedented events, such as the sniper rampage that kept us on edge and emphasized our collective vulnerability.
The year also impacted technology in government, elevating the demand for more interoperable, secure systems while providing fewer financial resources to build those applications. The mantra was "do more with less."
Overall, 2002 challenged optimists and fueled cynicism. And 2003 already has us on edge. Can we trust good e-government to transcend party lines as scores of new state and local leaders assume office? It will be the job of technology professionals to communicate the value of digital government in a new political environment.
As a practicing optimist, I looked for hope amid the turmoil that characterized our past year. How, I wondered, can something as impersonal as technology positively influence the new year? A few friends of Government Technology magazine offered their ideas. Steve Kolodney, former CIO of Washington, said technology can give power to people as new communities and unlimited access to information are created. "Truth is more available," he said. "Governments and institutions become more transparent and accessible."
Steve Steinbrecher, CIO of Contra Costa County, Calif., agreed. "I hope that, as people understand the infusion of technology in their daily lives, they will use it to go out and find the truth of a given issue," he said. "Truth leads to greater tolerance and understanding."
Texas CIO Carolyn Purcell suggested being aware of technology's "dark side," while harnessing its power. "Technology can overcome barriers of time, space and access, allowing a free exchange of ideas between people of different nationalities, religions and circumstances. Technology can link multitudes to markets and power institutions that are unreachable in the physical world," she said. "Technology can be a great equalizer."
According to P.K. Agarwal, former CIO of California's Franchise Tax Board, only people can effect true change. "New technologies clearly have the potential to tackle the major issues facing humankind. But technology is only a tool," he said. "The question is, do we have the individual or collective leadership to bring out the fullest potential of this tool? On that front the jury is still out. A corresponding philosophical question is if people are getting wiser with time."
Executive Director of the Center for Digital Government Cathilea Robinett visited hundreds of government leaders over the past year and said she feels encouraged. "Digital government is transformational," she said. "We can exploit this potential power to educate and engage people as never before. Greater access to information arms people to resist negative forces and allows us to develop new solutions to old problems." Her colleague at the Center, Paul Taylor, concurs. "Those who track worldwide trends report that governmental transactions are second only to buying books as the most common online activity," he said. "Imagine that. A connected, civic-minded and literate society."
With these insights we venture into a new year, hoping the coming months will be characterized by collaboration instead of conflict, and progress rather than partisanship.