Steven Schafer has been CIO of Nebraska since 1999. He works within an organizational structure that makes the nature of his job a bit different from other state CIOs. He reports to Nebraska's lieutenant governor, Dave Heineman, who's the chairman of the Nebraska Information Technology Commission.

Q: How does the Nebraska Information Technology Commission differ from other state IT commissions?

A: The scope is statewide. It's not focused on state government only, but incorporates community technology issues, such as telehealth and effective planning for information technology at the community level. It includes the education sector -- all of K-12 and higher education, public and private.

Much of my time is spent on these statewide issues. The other thing of note is I do not have operational responsibilities, which means I'm more involved in helping set the strategic direction. I'm not bogged down in discussions about rate setting or the details an operational entity has to worry about.

The fact that I don't have operational authority means anything we want to accomplish depends on collaboration with operational entities.

Q: What is the biggest IT initiative the state is working on?

A: The biggest effort we're working on is Network Nebraska. That's a collaborative effort that initially involved the University of Nebraska and state government just trying to aggregate telecommunications demand with their various statewide networks, and developing a common, shared telecommunications backbone.

We're now making Network Nebraska available to K-12 educational entities. Several have joined and are getting Internet access at much reduced rates because they're riding the university's contract. Starting July 1, we'll make Internet2 available to all K-12 entities and all other higher-education entities connecting to Network Nebraska.

Q: Why is this important for Nebraska to do?

A: One reason is to achieve lower costs through aggregation. Another is that by being an anchor tenant, we're hopefully providing an incentive for the private sector to invest in newer technologies. For example, one segment of our backbone will be utilizing multiprotocol label switching [MPLS] technologies. I think we're the first state to run our network using MPLS technologies, and we hope we'll help provide the business case to ALLTEL to implement that.

As we expand this backbone to our second tier of aggregation points, we hope to push that kind of technology out into more communities where those opportunities would not have existed without this type of collaborative effort.