Shaping the Economic Future

Without a viable computer and telecommunication infrastructure, economic growth in the 21st century will be a pipe dream.

by / June 30, 1998 0
We are rocketing through the turbulent and disorienting decades between the old Industrial Age and the new Information Age. In this new information-driven economy, the old rules of success do not apply; in fact, adherence to the old rules and assumptions that helped us succeed in the past equates to failure in the future. There is a fundamental change in the way we work and the kind of work most people do.

Here is an interesting statistic: The manufacturing and agriculture segments of our economy have diminished to less than 20 percent of our workforce; future gains in productivity will make it even less. Future success for government lies in defining, shaping and leading the information and service sector of the economy, particularly though the use of computer and telecommunication technologies. It is evident that a large portion of our economy is in the service and information sector. Government carries an enormous responsibility for investing in and shaping the new economy to insure the prosperity of future generations.

Call for Action

The 18th-century economy grew along the waterways, the 19th century along the railroads and the 20th century along the highways. Similarly the 21st-century economy will grow along the "networks." It is apparent that a strong telecommunications and information infrastructure will create a global environment where "you do not go to work -- work comes to you."

The single, most critical strategy for a "new economy-friendly" community is to develop a telecommunications and information infrastructure that links governments, schools, businesses and citizens and is supplemented by an appropriate policy, regulatory, educational and evangelical framework. The benefits gained from a strong telecommunications and information infrastructure are:

Expansion in areas of existing economic strength;
Creation and attraction of new business enterprises;
Positioning small- and medium-sized businesses to seek global and national markets;
Improving the productivity and distribution of goods and services;\
Spawning new information and service enterprises;
Providing new information tools to make agriculture and manufacturing more productive and profitable;
Incubating new economic enterprises, such as telemedicine and distance learning;
Distributing economic growth throughout the community, as it allows knowledgeable workers to work where they live;
Allowing government to accelerate and streamline processes and foster a "business-friendly" image.
Public/Private Collaboration

Telecommunications and information infrastructure development require strong involvement by the private sector as well as the community. Private-sector involvement is critical both in terms of skills needed and, in many cases, the capital to build the infrastructure. Community involvement is critical for gaining support to build this infrastructure, as it is going to be built largely on faith. The prevalent accounting principles of return on investment or pay back do not apply. Furthermore, this effort should be considered an "advanced community development" exercise requiring collaboration from the citizens, businesses, academia and government.

A Self Assessment

The questionnaire below is intended to assist community or government leaders at all levels in assessing their readiness to meet the challenge of migration to this new economy. While posed as questions, these are not really intended to have "yes" or "no" answers; they are food for thought.

If you want to supplement your qualitative assessment with a quantitative one, score each question on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being a highly favorable response. The following benchmark is offered by the author:

0-50 -- Move out of the community, especially if you have children or desire a high-quality life in the future.

51-120 -- Elect/appoint new leaders or send existing leaders to reform school.

121-180 -- There is hope. Take stock, get back to work and review the successful practices of others.

180 - Up -- Take time to celebrate. Buy stock in your community. Become a shining light for others; many need it.

An Assessment Tool

A. Does top management understand the information economy and its implications to their stakeholders?
B. Is there a well-articulated future vision of the jurisdiction/organization and the buy-in of a critical mass of senior executives?
C. Is there a CIO who is a member of the management team and has an eye for the future?
D. Is there a progressive entrepreneurial culture with different parts of government willing to collaborate on critical issues?
E. Is there a mechanism for the governance of cross-organizational issues, including information technology?
A. Is there a plan for: a) developing government and community telecommunications and information infrastructure and b) strengthening the information sector of the economy? Is there stakeholder buy-in for the development of the plan?
B. Is there an individual(s) vested with authority and responsibility to implement the plan?
C. Is there adequate investment to support the plan?
D. Is there a community/taxpayer buy-in of the plan?
E. Is there an information technology team to implement its part of the plan and the vision?
F. Are information and technology issues regular items on the management team agenda?
A. Is there a coherent and shared network being built that links all government units with businesses and citizens?
B. Is dedicated Internet access available to all workers and management and fully integrated in the business environment?
C. Is there an intranet and a plan to use it for internal process flow?
D. Is there a strategy for easy access, low cost, high-bandwidth and ubiquitous telecommunications availability in the future (for government and citizens)?
E. Is "mobile computing" being discussed or planned?
A. Has there been a review and modification of existing laws and regulations to remove any anti-technology bias (i.e., digital signatures, recording methods, etc.)?
B. Is the tax structure technology and economy friendly?
C. Is there a legal framework to support the information-driven economy?
D. Is there a plan to streamline the process of creating new business enterprises?
A. Is the K-12 educational curriculum being revised to integrate technology education (not the same as having the Internet in the classroom)?
B. Are teachers being trained to use computers as teaching tools?z
C. Are there programs for continuing education in computer technology for adults?
D. Is government staff becoming proficient in the use of applications and computer tools?
E. Do your constituents have easy access, or is there a plan for easy access, to higher education?
A. Is there a plan or strategy for migrating small businesses towards electronic commerce?
B. Is there a plan to use information technology to develop regional business networks (for areas of current economic strength)?
C. Is there a plan to use networking technology to seek global markets for existing products and services?
D. Are there pilot programs or demonstration projects being planned or implemented to develop a new economic base for the community in areas such as telework, distance learning, telemedicine, virtual communities, multimedia, etc.?
E. Is the government procurement process being redesigned to support electronic commerce, thus helping business achieve a global economy point of view?
F. Is there consideration for using public/private partnerships to bring private-sector skills and funding to help accelerate the rate of technological progress?
G. Are there efforts under way to bring about regional collaboration for economic development strategies?
H. Are elected officials and senior management global in their outlook?

P.K. Agarwal is chief information officer for the California Franchise Tax Board. He is a past president of NASIRE and currently co-chairs the NASIRE/ITAA task force on electronic commerce. He speaks on the subjects of the Internet, electronic commerce and the emerging information-driven global economy. Editorial assistance for this article was provided by his assistant, Patricia Campbell.

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