Editor's Note: Forty-four states responded to the 2006 Digital States Survey. The biennial survey, conducted by the Center for Digital Government, examines state governments' technological progress across three broad areas: (1) online citizen and business self-service; (2) architecture and infrastructure; and (3) planning, policy and structure.

The survey releases rankings for the top 25 states, and compiles a broad array of aggregate statistics on digital government growth and acceptance. In partnership with Government Technology magazine, the Center for Digital Government is releasing findings from the 2006 survey online. The site will provide comprehensive analysis -- released in six biweekly installments -- of the 2006 Digital States findings, as well as interviews with the top-ranked states.

Though the status quo mostly prevailed in taking the top 10 spots in the Center for Digital Government's 2006 Digital States Survey, Ohio and Wisconsin came from way back to claim the third and ninth spots, respectively.

Contrast their strong showing in 2006 to the 2004 Digital States Survey, in which Wisconsin ranked 25th and Ohio didn't even crack the top 25, and it's clear the two states got down to brass tacks.

Other states also made big gains in the 2006 survey. Three of the nation's largest states moved from the bottom two-thirds of the rankings in 2004 to the top 25 in 2006. California gained more than 10 spots, ranking 16th; Texas moved up more than nine spots to 17th; and New York climbed to 18th.

Ohio's Rise

Ohio's third-place finish shows that the state takes quite seriously the "behind the curtain" aspects such as information architecture and initiatives to beef up infrastructure, said Paul W. Taylor, chief strategy officer of the Center for Digital Government.

In 2001, Ohio started modernizing, streamlining and re-engineering the way it conducts transactions with businesses. In 2003 and 2005, state lawmakers passed legislation reforming how business taxes are collected by state and local government agencies. The 2001 efforts started with revamping the Ohio Business Gateway (OBG), an online portal that supports a variety of government/business transactions, and the OBG went through further adaptations to reflect the tax-reform legislation passed in 2003 and 2005.

Wisconsin Makes Moves

The Badger State's 2006 performance is a story of historic competencies, Taylor said, especially in telecommunications infrastructure.

"The state's had BadgerNet probably as long as anybody's had a statewide network," Taylor said. "Wisconsin has rebid and rebuilt the whole thing into a converged network over the last two years. It's now an all-digital, converged backbone that supports general government, criminal justice, education and economic development."

Wisconsin's rapid rise in the rankings from 2004 to 2006 actually started years ago when the state began the business case for BadgerNet. The business case was finished in fall 2002, the contract was awarded in March 2005 and pilot tests began in September and October of 2005.

The network is the backbone of Wisconsin's Shared Information Services (SIS) Initiative -- a consolidation of servers and local area networks, which is part of a larger effort called the Accountability, Consolidation and Efficiency Initiative first announced in early 2005 and spearheaded by Gov. Jim Doyle.

Steering to Success

A state government's course is not changed overnight, and a timeframe of months and years is what's usually required -- especially with states as big as California, New York and Texas.

"You've got three aircraft carrier-class states," Taylor said. "Even with the intention to move them, it takes a while to start seeing results."

A comparative analysis of the 2004 and 2006 results shows California's accomplishments over two years, such as the creation of online service applications in key areas, especially in the health-care industry.

Unseen Work

Only time will tell if the hard work by states Ohio, Wisconsin and California will keep them in the upper echelons of the Digital States Survey. It's clear that many states' hard work has paid off, though the results don't always immediately materialize.

All these "with a bullet" states share executive leadership committed to investing in IT infrastructure. Historically governors have disliked plowing money into technology investments that run the risk of not bearing fruit until the next administration is elected.

Thankfully for states, and the public, this 20th-century mindset is changing.

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor