When Gov. Gray Davis unveiled Californias Web portal in January, the event marked a turning point in the states approach to information technology. Release of the gleaming new portal capped several years of behind-the-scenes work by government IT officials to make Californias fractured state agencies act more like a single enterprise when delivering electronic information and services.

The contrast between Californias old and new Web sites is readily apparent. Where the old site offered static information and links to scattered state agency homepages, the MyCalifornia portal delivers one-stop access to nearly a dozen online services and an interface that invites users to tailor content to fit their needs. Not as apparent, however, are the policy shifts and management challenges that laid a foundation for the portal and a series of associated initiatives.

State officials say electronic government forced them to rewrite many of the rules for planning, implementing and operating IT systems. "Changing technology and changing peoples behavior need to be intertwined if this is going to be successful," said Steve Nissen, director of the Governors Office for Innovation in Government, an organization charged with improving customer service throughout California government. "Were fooling ourselves if we think we can [just] make changes in technology."

Nissen is one of three highly placed state officials appointed by Davis to improve customer service at state agencies and kick-start e-government efforts. He works with eGovernment Director Arun Baheti and Chief Information Officer Elias Cortez in a jurisdiction that routinely confronts IT challenges bigger than those faced by many nations.

"A lot of people see only the portal. They havent seen all of the hard work behind it," said Cortez, whose Department of Information Technology (DOIT) has focused on strengthening technology infrastructure and promoting the interagency teamwork that is essential to enterprise-wide e-government. "At the end of the day, our biggest challenge is moving forward together and engaging all of the players."

Setting the Stage

The seeds for closer cooperation between Californias notoriously independent state agencies were sown several years before the portals birth, with the creation of an interagency e-government task force and a government-wide alliance hammered together to address year-2000 concerns.

The task force, established shortly after Davis took office in 1999, had a dramatic impact simply because it pulled together CIOs and program managers from multiple agencies for a common purpose, said Nissen.

"Traditionally, the state didnt see itself as one enterprise helping a customer group known as Californians," he said. "Many of these departments have tens of thousands of employees in their own right, and they rarely speak to each other. Budgets are not set up to work together, and, politically, it is very rare that somebody provided executive sponsorship to bring these departments together to work collaboratively."

As part of the task force effort, the innovation office also briefed each of the states constitutional officers and major department directors on Californias intention to take a unified approach to delivering electronic services. "We wanted to prepare the program people to embrace a new way of doing business," Nissen said. "Two years ago e-government was a twinkle in the eye of many government jurisdictions, and it certainly was in California."

At the same time, the rapidly approaching Y2K deadline was forcing agencies - and the states three branches of government - to bury their IT differences. "For the first time, the state pulled itself together as one set of three major enterprises to solve a major challenge," said Cortez. "We are applying that management model as we develop enterprise technology initiatives."

Regular interaction among Californias diverse group of IT decision-makers is a key legacy of Californias Y2K experience, according to the CIO. More than 500 state business program leaders now

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  | 

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.