I firmly believe that we are rapidly entering a new and exciting era in society -- the Knowledge Age -- and the ramifications will be enormous. The transformation will be as great as the transition from the Agrarian Age to the Industrial Age. As we draw close to the end of this century and to the beginning of a new millennium, we are already seeing massive changes in the nature of work and the way we communicate and interact with each other. Peter Drucker put it rather bluntly: "We have started one of history's dramatic transformations. Before long, today's slower-moving corporations will have been swept away."

The transformation is also occurring in politics and government. If we take advantage of the possibilities, the next century can be the "Century of States," a golden era for limited, local government. Those public institutions, including education, that do not fully participate in the transformation will risk irrelevancy.

This is all being driven by the increasing power and speed of computers and the quantum leap in value and usefulness that occurs when computers are networked together. Someone said that if automotive technology had progressed as rapidly as computer technology, today a Mercedes Benz would cost $2. It would travel at the speed of sound and go 600 miles on a thimbleful of gas. Never have we seen a technology so powerful, yet so inexpensive.

When I took office more than three years ago, we made plans to develop several applications to more efficiently deliver government services to citizens and businesses. We have made excellent progress, and most of our state agencies now have Web sites and are interacting with their customers and clients. But it quickly became apparent that major applications would cost a great deal of money, sometimes tens of millions of dollars.

SMART STATES

Because I knew other states faced the same dilemma and many features of our applications would be similar, I wondered if there might be a way states could collaborate better in the development of these expensive applications. I discussed it with my colleagues, and last December Western governors formally agreed to begin a new initiative we call SmartStates. The Western Governor's Association offices here in Denver will serve as headquarters for this initiative.

A SmartStates World Wide Web page will allow anyone to click on a map of the United States and see what innovative policy and management reforms are under way in that state. Or they will be able to click on an alphabetical list of policy, services and electronic applications and see what states are interested in collaborating on in those areas. There will be links to Web sites in individual states and to other Web sites on specific topics.

We know there are other groups doing similar things, and we want to cooperate and collaborate with them. The asset SmartStates brings is the political capital of the governors. When the SmartStates steering committee decides to focus on a particular application, it will be done with the support of the governors, and that should provide impetus and resources to get the job done. SmartStates is already engaged in electronic benefits transfer applications, telemedicine and now the Western virtual university.

VIRTUAL UNIVERSITY

The virtual university discussion got started because it was clear states needed to collaborate in this area. Advanced technology forces more collaboration, more partnering, more networking. It requires that individuals and institutions look for niches and their core competencies.

In education, we must align public policies with what is taking place in the marketplace. That means more flexibility, more choices, and an enriched environment in which to learn. Every student must gain part of their education through technology-delivered means because this is the way the world is going to work in the future. If our students are to be