April 8, 2008 By Steve Towns
In 1996, South Dakota hired Otto Doll to head the Bureau of Information and Telecommunications, its newly created central IT organization. Doll has earned many honors, including NASCIO's Meritorious Service Award in 2005. He was named to Government Technology's Top 25 in 2004.
GT: South Dakota became the first state to consolidate its IT operations 12 years ago. What drove the state to make that move?
Doll: In 1973, the governor had the vision that four areas of state government should be centralized: IT, personnel, administration and finance management. They stood up the latter three, and they didn't stand up IT until 1994, and then that was only for some of the centralized services like networking. It wasn't until 1996 when the governor at that time said, "No, I'm going to pull all of IT into one organization." When you're a small state, you usually don't have a lot of resources, so you have to share.
GT: How was centralization accepted?
Doll: There was a lot of resistance. Heads of agencies told me, "This is just a fad, it'll go away." [But] the governor had the foresight to cut upfront. We laid off 65 people and took away 20 percent of the capital for the combined IT organization. We lost a lot of dollars, and then we were supposed to run the whole state on a smaller set of resources. It forced us to accelerate change.
GT: How does South Dakota's sparse population influence how you use technology to serve citizens?
Doll: They're not dying to do absolutely everything online. Part of it is it's our culture. When you have people who live far from town, they want to talk to the lady behind the counter, not only to find out how to do something for state government, but to get the gossip and whatever else. So there are still some people hanging on to the old-fashioned way - unless we've got two feet of snow and it's 30 degrees below. Then it's great to be able to do things online.
GT: There's growing talk about applying Web 2.0 tools to government. Where does that make sense to you?
Doll: I can see Generation X and the Millennial Generation really latching onto using e-government types of things. The Web is their world; they've grown up with it since birth, so they're comfortable with it. In South Dakota, we have a lot of elderly folks, so they're not as inclined. There are always early adopters, but that's only a small portion of the population. For the bulk of the population, the current e-government services are sufficient.
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