ore prominent role for government CIOs -- but a role potentially very different from before.

A growing number of high-profile CIOs aren't "IT people" in the traditional sense. Olson, an architect by trade, and Kelso, a law professor, didn't spend their entire careers in IT shops. Likewise, Wisconsin CIO Matt Miszewski -- 2006 NASCIO president -- is an attorney and founder of a data management firm for political candidates.

All three are adept at bridging the gap between bits-and-bytes technology issues and real-world needs of policymakers and agency managers.

Another impact of this shift is less emphasis on reporting lines and greater focus on effectiveness. After years of advocating for Cabinet-level state CIO positions, even NASCIO changed course. The group now says it's more important for CIOs to be involved in daily government operations than to answer directly to the governor.

"Several CIOs tell me they find themselves in a more advantageous position not directly reporting to the governor because they can focus more directly on the business activities of IT, as opposed to getting into some of the partisan issues," said NASCIO Executive Director Doug Robinson in a July interview with Government Technology.

Getting Religion

In reality, CIOs' effectiveness seems to have little direct correlation to their position on an organizational chart.

Takai -- who enjoys a direct reporting line to her governor -- pulled off a huge consolidation and centralization of state IT resources. Olson, another Cabinet-level CIO, spearheads a sweeping effort to change how Texas buys and operates IT.

On the other hand, Kelso -- who until recently operated without even an IT agency -- is consolidating the state's data centers and implementing a strategic sourcing initiative.

Miszewski -- who reports to the Wisconsin secretary of administration -- used innovative enterprise service bus technology to interconnect information throughout the state, and is now preparing to launch a state portal, which he says will set a new standard for electronic government.

Clearly there are multiple ways of getting the job done. As Paul Taylor, chief strategy officer of the Center for Digital Government, put it, "In 2005, pragmatism became the new religion for CIOs."

The good news for CIOs is that elected officials and policymakers once again view technology as a transformative force within government. The next big challenge for IT professionals, however, is turning that vision into results.

Turf Battle

Interest among big-city mayors in municipal wireless networks didn't just signal technology's return to the political stage, it also triggered one of the year's higher-profile IT policy issues.

Announcements by Philadelphia and San Francisco detailing the cities' plans to spur development of citywide wireless networks attracted all sorts of attention -- for and against the initiatives. The wireless technology itself isn't new, but the big-city projects mark a shift in municipal wireless activity.

Originally these initiatives offered a way for small communities to deploy Internet connectivity they don't necessarily get from private companies. Now large cities promote wireless initiatives as a way to streamline government operations, strengthen public safety and link underserved citizens to the Web.

The vested interests that stand to lose the most if municipal wireless networks take off across the country -- incumbent telecommunications companies -- were not pleased when two cities with populations of more than 1 million said, "We're going to do it ourselves."

As well as being a potentially huge hit to corporate coffers because of lost customers, these announcements give other big cities reason to consider doing the same. One thing government is good at is copying what other jurisdictions do first. If Philadelphia and San Francisco prove building a municipal wireless network isn't an insurmountable challenge and doesn't mortgage the future, other cities may well follow suit.

The debate over government involvement in communitywide wireless services spawned a flurry of legislation. At the state level, active bills in 14 legislatures sought to expand existing restrictions on municipally owned broadband networks, though 12 states completed their respective legislative sessions with no action on the bills.

Nebraska enacted a substantial new barrier, though the state already had a significant barrier on the books to begin with. Congress introduced three bills on municipally backed wireless networks, but the federal legislation deals more with whether states have the power to prevent municipalities from creating their own wireless networks.

Consolidation Continues

State and local governments continued consolidating IT functions throughout 2005. Although state budgets eased somewhat over the year, cost savings remained a key motivator in these efforts.

Legislators in California and Texas passed bills consolidating IT functions in central technology shops to degrees never before seen in those states.

In California, the proposal to consolidate data centers into a centralized IT agency was tossed around for years with no attempt to make it a reality. Lawmakers seemed leery of taking the step, knowing full well such a consolidation would save the state plenty of money.

California's consolidation initiative finally came about via executive order from Schwarzenegger, making him the first governor in a long time to take an active role in technology issues facing the state. The impetus for the consolidation came from the California Performance Review.

To operate the combined data centers, the governor created the Department of Technology Services in July, and named a familiar face in California IT, P.K. Agarwal, as director.

Texas also took dramatic steps this year to consolidate IT functions. By passing HB 1516 in May, the Texas Legislature showed its willingness to gamble on IT consolidation, a move that can quickly blow up in politicians' faces if the state agency given the job fumbles the ball.

In September, more than 200 state agencies began ceding control of their IT environment to the Texas Department of Information Resources (DIR).

Under HB 1516, the DIR possesses some important new powers: It can now force agencies to buy hardware, software and IT services from DIR-negotiated statewide contracts; it oversees the state's consolidated data center equipment and operations; and it will create and operate state technology centers to consolidate agencies' IT infrastructure in such areas as network security, electronic grants and telecommunications.

The continuing focus on consolidation sparked interest in IT management. As jurisdictions centralized IT resources and responsibilities, they began implementing management techniques designed to turn old-school IT shops into reliable technology service providers.

Chief among these techniques was a British import known as the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL). Developed by the UK government in the 1980s, ITIL is a collection of best practices for technology organizations. These techniques had been widely adopted nearly everywhere -- except in the United States.

That changed in 2005. Companies such as HP, IBM, Procter & Gamble and DHL invested heavily in ITIL. At the same time, a number of government agencies started their own ITIL implementations. From Oklahoma City at the local level to Virginia and Wisconsin at the state level, American government began adopting ITIL principles.

A New Direction

Another consolidation trend seen in 2005 -- which could become more common over the next few years -- is the merging of government and education IT systems. Only a handful of state and local governments can boast IT mergers of this sort. Sarasota County, Fla., took the unusual step of designating one CIO for both county government and the Sarasota County School District (SCSD).

Sarasota saw an opportunity to consolidate government and education IT operations in an entirely new way. The county administrator and the SCSD superintendent realized that working together could help both branches of government.

As a result, Bob Hanson, CIO of Sarasota County, is also the CIO of the school district, and the two government branches split Hanson's salary and compensation package 50/50. Hanson already spent two months earlier this year working with school board staff performing a comprehensive analysis of the district's IT infrastructure and assets, and developing an IT strategy.

At the state level, North Dakota officially unveiled ConnectND in 2002. It was an ambitious plan to integrate the state's universities and government agencies into one administrative software platform so that front-line staff could use a common set of financial and human- and student-resource management applications.

On Jan. 1, 2005, the final four campuses of the North Dakota University System (NDUS) went live with financial and human-resource software -- completing the rollout of those two applications to all 11 NDUS campuses.

Other local governments dove into the shared applications pool. Though not necessarily IT consolidation projects, shared applications are another mechanism for governments to save money and get quality IT applications.

Wake County, N.C., took the lead on making a property tax application open to all local governments in the state. The county worked the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) to form an open and voluntary collaborative, and other counties could then decide whether they wanted to be involved.

The project, now known as the NCACC Collaborative Property Tax System, took on its first partner county in 2003 and presently serves six counties. Wake County paid for all software development, and then ceded all ownership rights to the NCACC, which then distributed the software to member counties, each of which contribute to offset the costs of licensing and rights to use.

This year, a trio of Texas cities took the concept a step further by launching a regional ERP project. The neighboring cities of Arlington, Grand Prairie and Carrollton used back-office software from the same systems integration company. When the company dropped support for the software, the cities were forced to confront an upgrade.

After reviewing the upgrade costs, the cities hit on the idea of arranging a joint purchase of a new ERP package. They struck a deal with the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) to host the shared applications. The software is licensed and owned by the NCTCOG, and each city has an inter-local agreement with the NCTCOG for services and makes payments on the hardware and software.

IT for Health

After years of relative neglect, health and human services systems increasingly became targets for replacement in 2005.

Integrating eligibility determination systems for health and human services programs topped the list for many jurisdictions. Huge eligibility systems integration projects in Texas and Utah have attracted attention, primarily to reduce costs. Processing eligibility applications for one social program is expensive, let alone for the many programs for which states are responsible.

Utah chose to build a new platform to create an integrated eligibility application for social services in the state. Now the state is knee-deep in implementing its electronic Resource and Eligibility Product (eREP) -- an automated eligibility determination system for several state managed programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), food stamps and Medicaid. eREP will replace Utah's Public Assistance Case Management Information System -- a mainframe eligibility system developed in the 1980s.

When all eREP modules are successfully rolled out, the system will determine eligibility for more than 260,000 needy individuals per month for services offered by three state agencies -- the Department of Workforce Services, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Health.

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor