The Outlook for Digital Government

"The future is just as much a condition of the present as is the past," wrote German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in 1883.

by / June 12, 2006
"The future is just as much a condition of the present as is the past," wrote German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in 1883. Indeed, any stage of development is more purposeful if we are as aware of our present state as we are of what is to come. As the past moves us forward, projection to the future influences what we do today. This idea is especially true in the field of digital government, where citizens' needs and government goals move in a constant cycle of re-evaluation and self-adjustment.

As we regularly expend energy assessing digital government today, we should also look to the future and consider these questions: How will digital government look in the next five to 10 years? What role will the public CIO play during the next period of growth and change?

A group of experts in government, industry and academia predict the challenges ahead, and examine the outlook for technology, digital government and the leaders involved.

More Training, More Freedom
Costis Toregas, president emeritus, Public Technology Institute; chair, National Academy of Public Administration Panel on Social Equity in Governance

New CIOs have a wealth of new tools at their disposal -- Wi-Fi networks, PDAs, etc. -- that permit them to do things that were barely feasible before.

In the 1970s, there was no such thing as a CIO. The closest position was the manager of data processing, who was responsible for running big, laborious computer programs within mainframes and doing the drudgework of processing data. Today that has changed significantly; the ability to process data has been absorbed within the silicon chip and software, and CIOs create information environments in the workplace. We are also seeing more women in the ranks. Back then it was hard for them to break into the top rung.

With this increase in sophistication and responsibility for CIOs has come a lot of confusion in terms of how CIOs can play their proper roles in the public sector. There is also ambiguity among the titles of chief technology officer, CIO and chief knowledge officer. It's an interesting reminder that we are not about information, but about knowledge in this IT field.

CIOs, however, face a dilemma. They can increasingly handle technical issues that befuddle vendor relations, but are not positioned to do the most important thing in government and e-management: act on change and revamp business processes of the public sector. I say that out of respect for the emerging CIO. Few have enough power and authority to change business processes in agencies other than their own. They cannot reassign a public-works inspector or change the work program of a police detective. The bottom line of any IT investment is to keep people happy, not machines happy. We have not yet given CIOs the strength, skills or authority they need for the business part.

Right now, we are not spending IT dollars wisely in the public sector, because CIOs are not given the mandate to modify business processes. It should be the power of the individual to work better. CIOs relate to business customers in their units. The more they can engage those key business executives in real transformational implementations, the better the public's money will be spent.

We have spent the first 30 years of the IT revolution establishing a strategy and the position of CIO. Now more time must be spent on giving them authority and strategy to deliver proper results. CIOs need both more training and freedom. A dual role between technology and public administration is central to a successful public CIO's career, which is doing the public's business. It is in that direction that I see a very helpful and useful new dimension for CIOs.

Improvement Comes in Threes
Jerry Mechling, director, The Leadership for a Networked World Program, Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

There are three things CIOs must do with IT when it comes to having an organization work online, not in line. The first and easiest is to allow things that used to be done face-to-face to be done remotely. The needs of citizens have drastically changed. After they got computers for other reasons, they began to need and demand e-government. Following the electricity parallel -- which changed delivery, production and jobs -- a tremendous amount of re-engineering, redesign and simplification of work processes was involved.

Second, when work is done over a network, it's more visible than before, and the ability to coordinate your work is substantially greater. It brings up the question, "What other things do we do inside this organization?" Suddenly people find that while it doesn't always work, there is a capacity to outsource and look at how expensive it is to run a different process. The huge changes technology brings to the world are the second tier of change; first you redesign the work process, simplify, bring in caseworkers and then outsource.

Outsourcing and redesigning are very political, and we must convince governments to change their outlook. That often comes with great anxiety and conflict. So if that's what is required to take advantage of the big changes, then the technology leaders need a different set of skills. Before, CIOs needed to be respected by the technology staff, and smart enough to oversee applications and software development. The bridge of trust was between the leaders and the staff, as well as between the budget director and mayor or other officials who had to authorize large chunks of money. Once adoptions were approved, it was up to the technology group's leadership to implement the system.

Now projects are different. CIOs have to get everyone in different agencies to be caseworkers or see their work go outside. More people must be incorporated and engaged. The core leaders here will be the traditional political leaders, not just the technology department. This is a political challenge -- not essentially a technology challenge. The technology people must be trusted by their political and program leaders. We need more people like Eugene Huang in Virginia and Teri Takai in Michigan. A good relationship with the governor is important. CIOs must become part of the change agenda, and have a different set of skills and relationships than traditionally required.

Last, we are also likely to create a whole new system of government procedures. We have not yet begun to see how different governing processes will become. We will have to find new ways to cope with the complexity. The primary driver for it will be the economy. It's easy to make small changes when people can see the benefits. To the degree of our ability, we should make incremental changes and roll out smaller projects more quickly. We'll continue to have leaders who work hard and do it quickly and easily, but when there are certain hard things to be done, there is often a credible threat of pain coming unless we avoid it. The pain will come from the economy. Eventually outsourcing will make services better. Leaders will have to work with the people who are pained during the transition and keep communities reasonably together.

Take the Outside-In Approach
Chris S. Thomas, chief e-strategist, Intel Corp.

Government CIOs must understand the next-generation technology break that's upon us for service-oriented architecture (SOA). Their opportunity is to accelerate projects from multiyear to multimonth and reduce the scope of each individual project. Concepts of SOA change allow us to focus on an outside-in approach; CIOs have traditionally focused on the inside-out approach: doing their business and extending out to agencies. This consistently resulted in multiyear, multimillion-dollar projects that would not necessarily get done. This new opportunity goes the other way. Today's CIOs should look to the IRS and, which have successfully implemented an outside-in approach.

Consider the tax system: The IRS opened its interface and allowed the market to connect with it. For example, tax software and tax help institutions optimize their business to the government interface, as opposed to having the government optimize itself to business. Rather than building a huge Web infrastructure that must change annually, or create a basic batch, Web server interfaces allow anyone to submit documentation. The reduction in overhead is huge; the IRS receives documents faster. This also breaks the barrier between innovators.

Vendors compete to make the easiest tool customers will buy. That model is beneficial because it creates competition and innovation. It also reduces management and maintenance costs -- no logins, validations or security challenges. followed a similar model. Online grants went offline to be filled out later. This model saves substantial amounts -- in the billions. The savings come from building an enterprise application for each function. Those two organizations have been the vanguard of this change, and CIOs should look at their architectural change example to save money and reduce time for costs and delivery of capabilities.

In short, public-sector CIOs should use this change to SOA to modularize. They should use the outside-in approach to take advantage of market opportunities, and use software solutions outside the government whenever possible. Finally CIOs should function in a mobile way. Any online solution that does not accommodate mobile users of PDAs, cell phones and smaller laptops will have to be rewritten. We will need to accommodate that usage model of the future and design mobile architectures.

Return to What We Do
Jane Fountain, founder and director, National Center for Digital Government, University of Massachusetts

CIOs should be considering three things.

One is to go back to basics: What is it we really want to do with e-government? What are we trying to accomplish? Public CIOs in particular now know enough about technology and what's on the horizon to make more considerate decisions about the priorities in e-government and how IT relates to strategies. In fact, we shouldn't really be talking about e-government anymore. We are well beyond the e-mail and Web site stage. We need to return to the objective of government.

Second, privacy and security are taking up enormous parts of the IT budget. We now have enough information to build good policies around data ownership and privacy rights, and how these apply to networks being built into large state and municipal governments. We are well beyond the stage of saying it will happen soon and the legislation has not caught up. We've reached a point where we could make good policy and follow states that are ahead in terms of best practices.

The third area, something we see quite a bit at the federal level but not at state and local levels, are opportunities for cross-agency alliances: shared systems or partially shared. The major example drawn from the experience of federal government is the 24 to 25 cross-agency projects started during the Clinton years -- virtual agencies such as and -- that bring together information and Web-based resources on one Web site. It has been stunning to see the extent to which civil servants across agencies are able to work together. We have enough cases to show it can be done.

Lead the Transformation
Stephen D. Galvan, chief of staff and chief operating officer, U.S. Small Business Administration

We see federal CIOs leading transformation in their agencies for a citizen-centric, efficient and effective government by deploying Internet-based solutions and utilizing private-sector practices. This transformation includes implementing the line of business initiatives such as human resources management, case management and financial management that support the president's management agenda.

The federal government has already benefited from the Presidential eGovernment Initiatives, such as the Business Gateway and the eRulemaking Initiative. This trend in the federal government also offers best practice models for state and local governments looking to implement similar initiatives. There is a strong emphasis today on collaboration -- both horizontally and vertically, between government agencies, staff and the public/private sectors -- and working toward common solutions.

Procure the Right Stuff
Bill Pottenger, assistant professor, Computer Science and Engineering Department, Lehigh University; researcher, National Institute of Justice Information Policing Initiative; National Science Foundation Digital Government Initiative

One thing is clear -- government at all levels is headed toward incorporating information technologies to a greater degree. In the field of distributed data mining, which has applications in law enforcement, counterterrorism, medical informatics, etc., this trend is clear. For example, data mining is one of the most promising technologies the federal government uses for homeland security and law enforcement. A recent Congressional Research Service report on the subject said, "Data mining is emerging as one of the key features of many homeland security initiatives."

The Government Accountability Office (GAO) surveyed federal use of data mining in 2004. At the time, 40 percent of the 128 federal departments surveyed used or planned to use data mining. The two most common uses of this technology were "detecting criminal activities or patterns" and "analyzing intelligence and detecting terrorist activities." The Department of Defense accounted for 20 percent of all projects, most of which were focused on terrorism. The GAO report did not even include the National Security Agency, CIA or Department of the Army, each of which is more heavily invested in this technology than the rest of the federal government. This reveals the increasing importance of data mining technology.

While data mining tools are very useful, they are also expensive capital investments -- especially for local governments, which often lack the expertise and infrastructure to extensively evaluate the available options. Thus, a critical issue facing public-sector CIOs at all levels is the need to properly evaluate new IT, including data mining. In law enforcement, one role of the National Institute of Justice is to act as a clearing-house for methods to objectively perform such evaluation of technologies. The National Law Enforcement and Corrections Technology Center system was established for this purpose, and public CIOs need to be in touch with efforts of this nature in their respective domains to leverage emerging methods of evaluation.

As a practical matter, an IT evaluation working group must be established with the intent of developing methods and metrics for evaluating various data mining solutions employed in law enforcement and other domains. This in turn will lead to the standardization of data sets that could assist practitioners and researchers in evaluating data mining solutions.

Data mining is just one example of the numerous emerging IT areas in which public CIOs need to ensure they are making procurement decisions that are soundly based on tried and true methods of comparing and contrasting performance of information technologies.

Either You Get It or You Don't
Richard Varn, senior fellow, Center for Digital Government

Unless the current path changes at the end of the decade, laptops will run at brain speed and processors will be a centralized commodity. Similar to what happened during and after the Industrial Revolution, we'll be looking at what happened after we cleared the hurdles. We are closing in on standardizing how we build major components. It took until the 1920s and 1930s for most industrial standards to settle. The building blocks of industry became standardized, causing a huge productivity boom and a massive washout of artisans. These professions used to be stand-alone; everyone depended on them. We used to have electricity plants in individual buildings.

The startling part is how far the operating system will reach, compared to the runup to the Industrial Revolution. Now, you have the elements of hardware, software, storage and operating systems progressing within a short amount of time.

I like to say in the kindest way possible, "Legislators and policymakers who ran government, including IT directors: You either got it or you didn't." We've had a sea change in terms of the power and scope of change that is likely to happen in those same areas. In a very real way, the previous-generation mainframe managers had a good 25-year run before the Internet put them out of business. They needed to start changing the way they ran things, and their centralization made them look like dinosaurs. We now have a new generation of CIOs in danger of becoming dinosaurs if they don't see this next big wave coming -- big in terms of how IT operations will change and how much the business of government will change as a result of those developments.

The other advice centers on how to go about doing things. Focus more on business process redesign, customer service, linkages between systems, how interfaces will work and a customer delivery method. Don't get bogged down in managing a crisis of deploying software, rewriting code, tweaking systems, dealing with the network, customers, etc.; this is not wise for CIOs. Try to change role from CTO with a CIO component to more of a true CIO position, and make sure you are brokering services and offerings to deliver a plan of service to your customers.

Integration could really be the area of power and delivering services to happy customers. It's more than just getting the form on the Web. Instead, start to look for patterns in your types of customers and in their needs. Categorize them and seek methods of customizing services to specific demands. CIOs have to start thinking about delivering a plan of service consistently based on customer needs.

Watch What You Morph Into
Paul Taylor, chief strategy officer, Center for Digital Government

Digital technologies will continue to do the heavy lifting of government, making possible the volume and complexity of service delivery needed in modern society in ways that would be impossible without them. Digital government remains the one thing that helps reconcile infinite demand and finite supply because it has a built-in multiplying effect to stretch scarce resources.

As for the public CIO, there are three distinct varieties that will morph into any number of hybrids shaped around the priorities and preferences of a particular jurisdiction. The first variety was the CIO as trusted adviser, which was primarily a policy role attached to the governor's office. The second variety was the CIO as provider, with operational responsibilities for computing and telecommunications services to customer agencies and wearing the hats of CTO, chief information security officer and chief administrative officer as needed. The third variety stands on the shoulders of the first two, and is characterized by the CIO as a collaborator and catalyst in chief with an eye toward building communities of action around issues and opportunities common to public executives, managers and IT staff.