"May you live in interesting times."

Government IT professionals felt the power of that ancient curse throughout 2004 as they confronted a thorny mix of interconnected challenges.

Governments everywhere dealt with the usual rising service expectations from citizens. At the same time, a lingering economic downturn boosted demand for health and human service benefits, and other forms of "safety net" assistance. Homeland security requirements chewed through public safety budgets, and IT shops devoted more attention to protecting key government functions from computer viruses and spam attacks.

Reacting to these demands on stagnant budgets forced states and localities to consider novel -- sometimes wrenching -- alternatives to business as usual. To varying degrees, jurisdictions consolidated, outsourced, privatized and even offshored IT functions in an attempt to stretch scarce dollars.

CIOs often found themselves at the center of policy tensions and cultural clashes triggered by profound change. The resulting turmoil may account for part of the extensive turnover among top technology officials during 2004 -- particularly in state government, where nearly one-fifth of chief technology positions changed hands.

Still, there's evidence these painful changes ultimately produced stronger IT operations. Top finishers in the Center for Digital Government's 2004 Digital States Survey, such as Michigan and Virginia, invested considerable effort in re-examining and restructuring their IT operations.

Furthermore, technological advances made it easier for government leaders to rip up outdated business models and IT concepts.

Web services and intelligent networks let jurisdictions consolidate similar business functions into single systems, without necessarily centralizing them. Open source applications threatened to turn existing software cost structures on their collective ear. Powerful 64-bit processors and the open source Linux operating system even breathed new life into a mainframe computer market that some had left for dead.

An interesting year, to say the least.

On the following pages, Government Technology magazine examines the people, policies and technologies that shaped government IT in 2004.

-- Steve Towns

PEOPLE

By Steve Towns

The state CIO position underwent a significant changing of the guard in 2004, reversing a trend that helped shape public-sector IT for years: the migration of high-powered, private-sector CIOs to government. Roughly one-fifth of top state IT executives resigned, and at least half of those officials were among a wave of government CIOs who cut their teeth at corporate heavyweights before entering public service.

Many of these executives spurred activity that rattled the status quo.

Virginia's George Newstrom, a former EDS executive, led perhaps the largest state-level IT reform effort in the nation, consolidating technology infrastructure and resources from dozens of Virginia agencies under the control of the Virginia Information Technologies Agency. Florida's Kimberly Bahrami, who joined the public sector from Science Applications International Corp., presided over an initiative to outsource operation of the state's Web portal, data centers and IT applications. Tom Jarrett, formerly with Verizon, scrapped civil-service protections for Delaware Department of Technology and Information staff, implementing performance-based pay designed to reward employee productivity instead of longevity.

The list of private-sector transplants also includes Washington's Stuart McKee, who came to government by way of Disney; Michigan's Teresa Takai, from Ford Motor Co.; and New Hampshire's Robert Anderson, from Cabletron. As a group, these officials often pushed the boundaries of conventional government operations, and helped drive adoption of enterprise thinking that's now well accepted in public-sector IT shops.

This year, however, their ranks thinned considerably.

Some turnover stemmed from typical political cycles. With Virginia Gov. Mark Warner's term drawing to a close, Newstrom resigned as the state's secretary of technology in October. Similarly McKee called it quits in June as Gov. Gary Locke's term entered its final months.