OCT 95

By Dennis McKenna Publisher/Editor in Chief Revolutions can be rough on existing institutions and their staffs. According to a recent study by Deloitte & Touche, as many as 450,000 U.S. banking jobs - and half of all bank branches - may disappear in the next decade as customers increasingly turn to electronic banking. The results of this study, as reported by the Associated Press, say a great deal about the challenge government leaders confront as they move their organizations into the digital age. Technology offers tremendous opportunities to redesign service-intensive public sector functions. The director of one large state data center, for example, noted that over 50 percent of all government services could be delivered through electronic kiosks or by home computer. This has profound implications for the size and shape of the government work force as it is currently deployed. Today about 10 percent of the U.S. work force - over 15 million people - work for a city, county or state government. Add federal employment and the total comes to more than 20 million people. The question then becomes: Do we as a society have the political and cultural fortitude to make the dramatic institutional changes required to honestly capitalize on the promise of today's information technology? For more than seven years, Government Technology has been reporting on the role of information technology in improving government. We have written more about the innovative and effective applications of computer and telecommunication technologies in state and local government than anyone. Even as recently as four years ago, computer systems were fine for automating existing processes. But high costs and hardware and software limitations made these systems incapable of supporting - much less instigating - radical redesigns in business processes. But computing capability continues to accelerate. Today for example, it is technically possible to build an enterprisewide justice/public safety information system linking city, county, state and federal departments - courts, law enforcement, corrections and probation - into a seamless networked system. The same could be done in human services, taxation, administration and many other areas. These integrated systems, tied into the national information infrastructure, would help reduce costly redundancies and existing inefficiencies in service delivery. They would also begin to blur the traditional "turf" between departments and even levels of government. The net result of all this, from a purely information and communication technology standpoint, is that government could undergo as radical a change in its service delivery - and its need for people and places - as is predicted for the banking industry. Thus the "technology decisions" facing government leaders in the immediate future have more to do with managing the nature of institutions, their cultures and politics, than with computer systems. How prepared are leaders in state and local government to make these decisions? New sets of skills and resources are required of these managers. Serious and innovative planning is likewise required in how to re-engage and re-train thousands of individuals into new, productive endeavors as one of the largest sectors of America's work force moves further into the digital age.