April 16, 2002 By Steve Towns
"Companies, especially high-tech companies, probably have high-tech workers who are expecting to deal with a high-tech government," he said. "Going online and looking at a great Web site with lots of transactions and information - that's going to be quite a positive."
Molchany said private industry's interest in electronic services has pushed him into a tighter working relationship with Fairfax County's Economic Development Authority. It also prompted the county to pay close attention to the needs of business during its latest Web site redesign, he added. "We did multiple focus groups with citizens and businesses through the Chamber of Commerce to ask them, 'Is the information on the Web organized right for you? What's missing? What transactions do you really need?'"
But the CIO's role encompasses more than building an e-government infrastructure, according to Virginia Secretary of Technology Don Upson. He said economic development should rank among a technology executive's primary responsibilities.
"To me, electronic government is really a catalyst for change to bring together communities of all sizes and businesses of all sizes and engage them in a robust economic environment," he said. "It's not just about getting services to citizens more efficiently; it's about building the quality of life."
Upson, whose post includes one of the broadest economic-development mandates among state IT executives, spends about half of his time actively marketing Virginia and Virginia technology businesses both domestically and abroad. He has traveled with Virginia business leaders to England, Egypt, Mexico, Germany and other locations.
"The whole point is to increase the visibility of Virginia," he said. "We're not there to make the deal. But we believe that if we take business leaders over and put them in an environment where they're working with the business leaders in other countries, they'll figure out business. And we can help create that opportunity for them."
Other state CIOs also directly market their state's IT capabilities and technology climate to potential employers and others. In Kentucky, for example, Valicenti regularly speaks to local government and business leaders about technology issues.
"When I took this job, there was a very clear charge from the administration: 'Not only are you going to work internally from an efficiency and effectiveness perspective, we want you to become a spokesperson for the state on technology issues,'" she said. "Information technology has become a key enabler to how business is run, and it's a key component of how we market our state."
Unfortunately, the trend toward greater CIO involvement in business issues hasn't filtered down to smaller communities, said Patric Zimmer, owner of Development Advisors Inc., a North Carolina-based site-consulting firm. Companies looking for a new home clearly want to hear about a jurisdiction's technology policies, he said. But outside of major metropolitan areas, there's usually no high-level IT executive to talk to them.
"A lot of these communities have people who are in charge of the technical side of their operations, but they are not necessarily what I would call a CIO," said Zimmer. "They're charged with maintaining networks and keeping things up and running. They're much more reactive than proactive."
Zimmer acknowledged that many small cities and counties can't afford to hire senior IT executives, but he said failure to address industry's IT infrastructure concerns can be disastrous to recruiting efforts. High-speed telecommunications connections and other technology capabilities have become just as important to employers as basic infrastructure such as roads, water and sewers, according to Zimmer.
"I can give you example after example of communities that spend millions to create business parks, and no one has thought about the telecommunications infrastructure," he said. "
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