The following interview was conducted by GT Features Editor, Brian Miller.
GT: Since your inauguration in early 1995, you've been creating e-mail connections across state government. Tell us about it.
King: When we came into office in January, there was pretty much zero e-mail in state government. The capability wasn't there. I wanted to have connections within the governor's office and to all the commissioners by June, and into the rest of state government by the end of year, if possible.
So we've gone from a standing start to 3,000 to 4,000 people on the system, including all the commissioners and the governor's office. I think they tracked about a 20 percent drop in paper transactions within the government agencies since the beginning of 1995.
GT: How has this affected the way the governor's office works?
King: It's just a matter of making people more productive. For example, I communicate with my commissioners quite often. Rather than call them and not know if they are going to be there at that time, I can just sit down and bang out a couple of sentences, send it off, and I'll have the answer within a matter of minutes if they are around, or in hours if they are not.
GT: How does this affect governing and the decision-making process that you and the commissioners go through?
King: Government generally is faced with the same imperatives to increase productivity that the private sector has been through in the last 10 years. Government is sort of the last to get it.
If we were a company, the analogy would be that we have falling revenues and fiercer competition. If you are a company and you're in that situation, there's only one way to go and that's improve productivity.
Ever since the invention of the hammer, technology is the way to increase the productivity of an individual. That's the way I see technology within our state.
E-mail is just the tip of the iceberg. Analysis software, spreadsheets, groupware where we can work on projects jointly -- all of those are there to facilitate decision making and policy formation. Every day I probably deal with between 30 to 50 pieces of e-mail and I can deal with it very efficiently and very quickly -- much more so than with traditional paper mail.
GT: How does e-mail help in the decision-making process? By sharing information among the commissioners?
King: Exactly. You can share the information faster and more broadly. Everyone can see the memo and then I can say 'what do you think about this?' And I can get collective lists in a hurry, often without having to get everyone in the same room.
It's sort of mundane, but one of the problems we found coming into state government was a multiplicity of systems where everybody had a different architecture, everyone had different applications. There was no connectivity, there was no networking, and no cross-platform sharing -- that was a disaster.
We've really put a lot of emphasis on developing a standard suite of office applications across state government, a standard platform to ensure compatibility.
Just this week we arranged with a local main bank for instant financing. State employees who want to buy a computer for their own use or for their family can buy it and pay for it by payroll deduction. We've negotiated a volume discount with the bank so that they are getting 6.5 percent interest on what amounts to a consumer loan.
The theory is that the more our employees become computer literate, the better. And at the same time it's a benefit for them and their families.
GT: How does technology assist a governor in his or her job?
King: I couldn't imagine doing without it. Being governor is an overwhelming job that involves having to deal with a constant flow of information. The technology enables you to manage that information in a timely manner and in a way that you are able to make more decisions, make them faster and make them based on better data.
To somebody whose job it is to make decisions, that's what you have to always be seeking -- better data in a more timely way and a better way to make your decision. I think that's the answer. If you stop to think about it, the job of a governor is to decide -- how much are we going to put in the budget for education? What are we going to do about the escapes at the main detention center? Or what do we do in terms of improving our environmental permitting processes? All of those decisions need to be based on some kind of information. The technology allows you to access the information faster.
Also, I'm talking to you on a car phone. Five years ago I'm not sure the governor had a car phone. I can't imagine not having a car phone. That's a communication technology. I wear a beeper so that I'm in touch and can be contacted at any time.
Within the computer field there are the applications, the decision-making programs, the spreadsheets and those kinds of things that help us to analyze data.
I view it as a competitive necessity. Maine is competing with the rest of the country for jobs and for economic development and we're going to be on the front edge of that competition. And technology is one of the ways to do it.
GT: How does improving and increasing the use of technology in state government affect the residents of the state?
King: I think in two principle ways: one is more efficient production for them of whatever it is the state is doing. Whether it's the issuance of a driver's license, a permit or welfare benefits, you can get things quicker, more accurately and it's just better customer service.
The other way is saving money. We're going through a unique governmental downsizing project where we're cutting $45 million out of our personnel and general fund budget by increasing productivity. The program is called the Productivity Realization Task Force, and we're looking at each agency and saying 'how can we deliver better services to the public at a lower cost?'
Quite often, part of the secret of that is technology. The customer, or the taxpayer, gets a break in terms of getting their information or whatever it is they want faster and easier with less hassle, and at the same time pay less in taxes for it.
I hope what's going to happen is that people will notice it doesn't take so long to get permits done, or get applications, driver's licenses or hunting licenses back.
You have to understand a little of my background. I had never used a computer before I was 45 years old. Then I started my own business from scratch and I couldn't afford clerical help, so I bought a Macintosh -- and it changed my life. I taught myself to do spreadsheets, correspondence, business cards, graphics, you name it. And I became a real believer in the power of this technology.
I think part of the reason I have
been able to push technology so far and so fast in state government is because it's something that I do and that I am interested in. I have been getting MacWorld magazine for years, and for fun I read about what's out and what's going on out there.
GT: I understand Maine has a well-regarded home page on the World Wide Web. Tell us a little bit about it.
King: After we get off the phone, jump on it. I think you'll find it's really pretty neat. For example, as part of a downsizing project that we're doing for state government, we're having to lay some people off. We're putting their resumes on the Internet to try to help them find new positions.
We've got a very sophisticated tourism piece where you can click on the map of Maine and it will tell you what's going on in that region and what the attractions are. Then you can go in and find hotels, motels and restaurants.
In a matter of months, we will have available on the Internet all of the state regulations. A person who is interested in getting a permit -- whether it's something like a duck hunting permit or something as complicated as permits to build a building -- will be able to go in and look at what the regulations are. And that's a customer service function.
The other thing we're developing is a very sophisticated GIS system for economic development. Somebody interested in doing business in Maine can go through this and find out everything they would want to know -- labor market data, sewer lines, schools, tax rates, availability of road frontage -- all in a consistent, easy access database.
GT: Who are home pages for? How does it affect certain constituencies?
King: There are two different constituencies that we are aiming at.
One is in-state people, by giving them access. For example, it gives them
e-mail access to the governor's office. That's a pretty straightforward one. It gives them information about agencies, regulations and their own internal tourism. It's an easy way to communicate with state government quite directly and instantaneously.
Second, we want to be accessible to the outside world. For example, we had some friends in France who were coming to see us. They accessed the Maine home page from Paris and found a bed-and-breakfast in Portland, made a reservation and had everything done before they landed in New York.
Multiply that by 100,000 or a million and that can be a big boost to our tourism business. Tourism is our largest single employment segment. As you will see on our home page, there's been a lot of care taken with our visitor information piece. Also, if a business wants to get in touch with us it's a way for them to get a feel for what the state is about. We're going to be expanding that.
Maine's home page can be found at .