This winter, I visited New York and other states and listened to remarkable tales of courage and survival from people directly affected by the events of Sept. 11. These stories got me thinking about bravery and courage and the many small, yet significant opportunities people have to demonstrate these traits in everyday life.
The bravery of emergency responders during the events of Sept. 11 is obvious and undisputed. But, after learning how the New York City Department of Information Technology reacted with quick decision-making, creative thinking and countless, sleepless hours of hard work, courage takes on new meaning. It moves from the front lines of adversity to the halls of government. This brand of courage, of course, is different than that required to rush up the stairs of a burning building, but it is nonetheless another face of the characteristic that creates heroes at all levels.
In Georgia, officials plan to transform how the state does business and delivers services, despite government's aversion to change. The public sector's culture is ingrained and its processes entrenched. To even contemplate change requires courage.
But folks in Georgia and other leading states have picked up the gauntlet. Larry Singer, Georgia's chief information officer, is launching the transformation with the proverbial "velvet glove," nurturing and engaging stake holders, and with a iron will, determined to urge Georgia fully into the Digital Age.
To shake up a government universe by introducing a new culture based on enterprise standards and cross-agency collaboration takes courage. Although Singer, with the support of Gov. Roy Barnes, will lead the charge, managers and heads of departments will also be required to embrace the challenge. They too will have to risk criticism and be fearless agents of change.
Others have been through a similar process and survived. Washington, Illinois, Texas, Kansas and Pennsylvania have introduced significant culture change under the leadership of empowered CIOs. But, when walls are coming down and boundaries are erased, the pain can be very personal for those leading the charge.
Like the brave and committed staff of New York City's IT department, executives and agency managers must never lose sight of the goal. In New York City, the immediate mission was to provide electronic solutions to respond to life and death circumstances. Information technology provided a lifeline for emergency personnel, citizens and for victims of the Sept. 11 attacks.
Planned transformation may not have the same urgency, but promises similar benefits to government and the public it serves. Picture citizens who have confidence in government, who don't dread interacting with departments in business transactions, who approve of how government manages its daily affairs. It is this vision that drives e-government leaders and their agents to face the fear of change and have the courage to do things differently than they've been done in the past.
Admittedly, being a hero is relative to the circumstances surrounding the deeds. New York City is a hotbed of heroes - the kind that make headlines like the city's emergency workers - and those that rarely make the footnotes - such as the men and women who kept the city online through its worst moments in history. These are the same kind of heroes that strive to fulfill the promise of digital government: the systems managers, agency directors, department heads, division chiefs and CIOs.