may be the only common thread uniting top-scoring states in this years survey. Digital States top-15 finishers represent a diverse group of jurisdictions, including large, populous states like Texas, Michigan and Pennsylvania, and rural states like South Dakota, Utah and Idaho. Ironically, states known for being high-tech strongholds in the private sector -- California and Massachusetts, for example -- finished in the bottom half of the pack.

"Leadership is probably the single-most important variable. Its very hard to find patterns that go much beyond that," said Eisenach. "You dont find that big states do better than small states. You dont find that high-tech states do better than others. And I dont think you find a correlation between wealth and performance."

Three in a Row

Washingtons Digital State triple crown confirms that the state is "pushing the edges" of technology in the emerging electronic government arena, said Steve Kolodney, director of Washingtons Department of Information Services.

With little in the way of established measures, Digital States nationwide comparison provides a rare yardstick for e-government progress, he added. "The validation that we get from these types of efforts confirm[s] for our own political leadership that were doing good work compared with whats going on around the rest of the country. And that gives us the room to take the kinds of risks that we need to take if we are going to improve."

Kolodney said his organizations consistent success stems from its cabinet-level authority and strong backing from the governor, as well as a healthy dose of competitive pressure.

"Were in a position of supporting [state agencies] as our customers. They dont have to buy our services," he said. "So we have to prove to them every day that they ought to vote for us by spending their money with us."

Among the states key achievements this year was the creation of a short-range, e-government planning process designed to keep pace with quick-changing Web technology.

"We have committed ourselves to producing a plan which can be accepted or adopted by the state every six months," said Kolodney. "We published a plan in January, and we completed it in June. We will have another six-month plan in September."

These plans are guided by an overall vision for integrating the Internet into daily government operations and service delivery, he added. "We havent simply opted to put Web sites out on our front lawn. We have charted a long-term course."

Change Pays Off

Kansas CIO Don Heiman said a change in his states IT governance structure paid healthy dividends over the period measured by this years survey. Kansas jumped from number 10 in 1998 to number two in the 1999-2000 Digital State rankings.

Kansas created a high-level Information Technology Executive Council in 1998 comprising leaders from state government, local government, higher education and the private sector. Heiman reports to the council and serves as the statewide chief information architect. Under him are chief information technology officers for the executive, legislative and judicial branches of state government.

A key product of the reorganized leadership structure was the development of a technology architecture that standardized IT policies and practices throughout the state.

"We really formed a tight partnership between the three branches of government, and we flattened our bureaucracy. Youre seeing the result of that," said Heiman. "We have been able to do projects across branches and across agency lines and bring them in successfully. In this day of high integration and high touch to citizens, thats incredibly important."

Just as vital, the new approach has shortened the project approval cycle from several months to a matter of weeks. "That energizes the IT community and it energizes our subject-matter experts," said Heiman. "It allows us to strike

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  | 

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.