Level of Gvt: State, local
Function: MIS Training
Problem/Situation: State and local governments need to beef up computer training for users and MIS staff.
Solution: Government is using novel and effective ways to make computer training easy and affordable. However, MIS directors are trying to cope with a new generation of information systems that require special skills and training.
Jurisdictions: Dade County, Fla.; California; Indiana; Monroe County, N.Y.; Texas.
Vendors: Center for Project Management G2 Research, Standish Group.
Contacts: Joann Washington, Texas Department of Information Resources 512/834-4809; Deborah Ray-Syms, California State EDP Education Program (SEEP), 916/323-2110
By Tod Newcombe
In 1972, California's Department of General Services started the State EDP Education Program (SEEP) to provide technological training for government employees. Back then, training was geared toward mainframe computing. SEEP still provides training to program and operate the big iron machines, but today the typical class is more likely to involve a Windows-based software program for personal computers.
The shift in training is no surprise. State and local government has undergone a dramatic expansion of information processing at the desktop. In 1988, nearly 80 percent of government information was processed on mainframes. Today, mainframes handle only about 50 percent, and by 1998 it will be closer to 40 percent, according to G2 Research Inc.
The fastest growing computer platform in state and local government is, of course, the PC. Following the rising curve in PC computing is a surge in demand for training on MS-DOS, Windows and Macintosh software. The Texas Department of Information Resources saw attendance at PC training classes more than double between 1992 and 1994. In California, 98 percent of SEEP's training is now PC-based.
But while government works to meet the growing demand for PC training, it is doing little to educate and train MIS staff in developing software programs for managing the increasingly complex information systems state and local governments now require.
In Indiana, for example, the state has a goal to improve information sharing between agencies. Meeting that goal requires a new information architecture, one that is heavily based on integrated databases, pointed out Fred Alvarez, MIS director for the Indiana Department of Environmental Management. "But it just doesn't happen by adding new computers and networks," he said. "We're missing the rest of the story."
Alvarez and other MIS directors say it's hard to find both resources and top level support for specific technical and managerial training, such as I-CASE (integrated computer-aided software engineering) and project management. These skills are needed to build and manage the new breed of government information systems, such as integrated social service eligibility systems, criminal justice systems and statewide financial systems.
In particular, training in project management has been singled out as a weak point in state and local government. One reason, according to Raj J. Kapur, vice president of the Center for Project Management, is the lack of buy-in at the executive level. "Government executives don't understand project management, especially for complex information systems," he said. "Often they look to tools to meet management needs or solve problems. That's just putting the cart before the horse."
Some states are responding to the problem by beefing up their management training programs. Others say that as the demand for high-tech training, such as I-CASE, increases, resources will be shifted to meet the need. Whether these responses prove adequate in the long run remain unclear.