Leaders of the Pack

Revealing the secrets of 2006 Digital States' top performers.

by / January 5, 2007
Editor's Note: Forty-four states responded to the 2006 Digital States Survey. The biennial survey, conducted by the Center for Digital Government, examines state governments' technological progress across three broad areas: (1) online citizen and business self-service; (2) architecture and infrastructure; and (3) planning, policy and structure.

The survey releases rankings for the top 25 states, and compiles a broad array of aggregate statistics on digital government growth and acceptance. In partnership with
Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government is releasing findings from the 2006 survey online. The site will provide comprehensive analysis -- released in six biweekly installments -- of the 2006 Digital States findings, as well as interviews with the top-ranked states.


What separates the top 10 finishers in the Center for Digital Government's 2006 Digital States Survey from the rest of the pack? There are common threads despite wide, state-to-state variance in political, demographic and geographic factors.

Top 10 finishers excel at cross-boundary collaboration through deploying useful and practical applications to serve multiple agencies and even multiple branches of government. Underpinning these efforts are mature policies and architectures that promote shared services and discourage the development of overlapping systems. Economic development, public safety, health and education tend to be key drivers for IT-related innovation in these states -- often with the governor personally leading the charge.


Working Together
Top states in the 2006 survey earned uniformly high marks for creating applications that are shared among multiple agencies and branches of government.

For example, fourth-ranked Utah operates a shared, online-payment solution used by more than 20 state agencies. UtahGovPay -- which processed 1.3 million credit card and virtual check transactions in 2005 -- can be customized to look like any agency Web page, resulting in a seamless experience to customers.

Shared applications aren't only crossing agency boundaries. A growing number of them also cross jurisdictional lines.

Third-ranked Ohio enhanced its Ohio Business Gateway (OBG) to handle electronic filing and payment of business taxes for 580 cities in the state. The OBG, designed to give businesses one-stop access to government services and transactions, provides a standard electronic process for complying with Ohio's Commercial Activity and Municipal Net Profits taxes.

Overall, the top 10 states outperformed the national average in numerous areas related to collaborative applications and services, according to the survey results.

Sixty percent of states in the top 10 share infrastructure with other governments and have developed multijurisdictional governance models for these activities. By contrast, only 34 percent of all Digital States Survey respondents had implemented such practices. Similarly 40 percent of top 10 states have implemented intergovernmental data sharing applications that are jointly governed by multiple jurisdictions. Just 18 percent of all survey respondents had done so.


Driving Progress
Among top 10 finishers, economic development was a key motivator for collaborative activity, and governors often played a high-profile role in leading these activities. The OBG traces its roots to Gov. Bob Taft's Jobs Cabinet, created in 2004 to fashion a comprehensive strategy for attracting and retaining jobs. Cross-boundary projects in ninth-ranked Wisconsin and seventh-ranked South Dakota also are connected to job-creation programs spearheaded by their chief executives.

This type of activity was more common among top finishers than the remainder of Digital States respondents. Forty percent of top 10 states have launched multijurisdictional economic development efforts, compared with just 27 percent of all respondents, according to the survey.

Criminal justice/homeland security represents another key area for collaboration -- both within the Digital States Survey's top 10 and among all survey respondents. Multijurisdictional initiatives in this area are under way in 60 percent of the top 10 states and in 55 percent of states overall.

For instance, sixth-ranked Arkansas launched the Arkansas Wireless Information Network (AWIN), a multiphase initiative to create a statewide interoperable radio system. The project is led jointly by representatives from key state agencies and local first-responders.

Health and human services emerged as another driver for collaborative IT progress. Forty percent of the top 10 states operate multijurisdictional applications in this area versus 25 percent for the rest of the pack.

Second-ranked Virginia's No Wrong Door initiative uses Web technology to give elderly citizens simplified access to the bewildering array of public and private health resources available. In addition, the initiative promotes collaboration among the state and local agencies, nonprofits, community organizations and private providers that play a role in the support process. State officials say the initiative improves patient care and stretches funding by helping organizations coordinate information, referrals and case management.


Good Policies
Not surprisingly, the Digital States Survey's top 10 have implemented enterprise policies and architectures that actively promote collaboration. Some of the highest-ranked states also posted the best scores for service-oriented architecture (SOA) maturity. This was true for Utah, Ohio and top-ranked Michigan. Growing adoption of SOAs and other policies designed to promote application sharing and aggregation of IT demand helped top 10 states outperform the national average when it came to consolidating IT infrastructure.

For instance, 80 percent of top 10 states have fully consolidated shared utilities such as e-mail, electronic payment systems, help desk, and calendaring and messaging applications. By comparison, this work has been completed in just 30 percent of all Digital States Survey respondents. Ninety percent of top 10 finishers have consolidated local area and wide area network services and other transport management tasks versus 57 percent of overall Digital State Survey respondents.


The Payoff
All of this attention to enterprise consolidation and standards paid significant dividends for top 10 finishers.

Michigan credits a statewide Web services strategy with transforming its software development process. The Michigan Department of Information Technology (MDIT) used the approach to launch more than 40 new applications despite staffing and budgetary constraints.

Using open systems and architectures, Michigan slashed the cost and time associated with developing software applications, according to state officials. The state estimates that its Web services strategy saved an estimated $12 million to $14 million in 2005-2006, based on the reduction in development hours alone. Furthermore, the strategy let the MDIT stockpile a repository of Web services that are shared by cross-agency applications.

Similarly Ohio collected a significant return on upgrades to the OBG. Officials said electronic collection of Ohio's Commercial Activity Tax totaled $79 million in the first year of operation, a return of about $23 for every dollar invested in the $3.4 million project.


Federated Nation?
Top 10 states were busy developing shared and consolidated IT services, but they weren't necessarily centralizing IT functions. When asked to rate their degree of centralization of IT development and operations, almost all of the top 10 viewed themselves as predominantly decentralized. Indeed, this trend held true for most states responding to the Digital States Survey, 75 percent of which classified themselves as decentralized.

This may indicate a growing view among state officials that a federated path to IT consolidation is a better fit for the realities of government. It could also be a sign that Web services, SOAs and other enterprise approaches finally give jurisdictions the tools they need to consolidate without centralizing. Yet at the same time, the survey's top two finishers -- Michigan and Virginia -- both have centralized their IT operations.

Ultimately the Digital States Survey's top 10 proved there is more than one "right way" to transform government operations. These states adopted practices and strategies that fit their particular needs and political environments.