State CIOs who gathered in Chicago for NASCIO's midyear meeting continued to grapple with the need to connect technology and public policy.
Forging that link is crucial to establishing technology -- and CIOs -- as a vital piece of good government instead of just another budget item that may be on the chopping block when expenses must be trimmed.
But firmly tying IT to issues that matter to elected officials hasn't always been easy. One factor often cited by IT professionals is that many officeholders aren't familiar enough with technology to recognize its importance. Spend enough time at public-sector technology events, and you'll hear complaints that "legislators just don't get it."
But lawmakers may not be the only ones with something to learn.
Former Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer addressed the flip side he accepted NASCIO's National Technology Champion Award at the group's April meeting.
"Technology people don't understand business issues," said Geringer, who did a pretty fair job of aligning technology with public policy during his two terms as governor. Among other things, he strengthened education through a mix of standards, accountability and IT.
He also modernized Wyoming's economic planning by injecting a healthy dose of technology into the process. Geringer even left the state with a budget surplus when his second term ended in 2003.
Too often, IT professionals speak the wrong language, Geringer warned. Where CIOs talk process -- ERP, XML and a slew of other acronyms -- governors and mayors worry about better schools, safer streets and leaner, more responsive services.
Technology certainly can help solve these challenges -- the pages of Government Technology are filled with case studies demonstrating just that -- but its potential isn't always apparent to officeholders and policy-makers. It's incumbent upon CIOs to make technology relevant to those who shape public policy and control government purse strings.
"Information technology usually isn't instinctive to policy advisers," said Toby Roth, chief of staff for Alabama Gov. Bob Riley. "But it often doesn't take long for them to see the importance of IT to reforming operations."
Indeed, technology's stature appears to be growing in Alabama with the revival of the state's moribund Office of Technology.
"Our goal is to make IT leaders a part of the planning process -- not just a point of purchasing control," said Roth, speaking at the NASCIO meeting. "But we still have much work to do. We've struggled with it."
To be sure, plenty of elected officials ignore technology's potential. But CIOs do themselves and taxpayers a favor by engaging political leaders on public-policy concerns, instead of IT issues.
When technology officials and public policy-makers "get it," everyone wins.