Should you enter One Ashburton Place, the mammoth office building in Boston that houses many of the executive branch agencies that run the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and start looking for the Department of Telecommunications, you won't find it.

There's an Operational Services Bureau, an Enterprise Security Management Group and an Enterprise Infrastructure Group, all of which include data communications, communications security and telecom contract oversight and are located within the Information Technology Division.

But there is nothing called telecommunications, said Frank Burns, who comes as close as anybody to being the "phone guy" for Massachusetts but has the nontelecom title of information services manager. "There's no central coordination of telecommunications in Massachusetts anymore," he explained. "It's decentralized throughout the agencies."

Telecom has become so finely intertwined with IT in Massachusetts that its vocabulary has changed along with its purpose. What happened there also has happened, or is in the process of happening, throughout state government. Many telecom departments have been folded into state IT agencies; names and titles have changed as well. Telecom directors are now directors of either network infrastructure or integrated communications.

What was once separate, both organizationally and technologically, has become intermingled. "It's hard to tell the difference between the beginning and end of a network these days," said David Ballard, executive director of Infrastructure Services for the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Ballard has watched as separate functions merged with changing times. "Today, we combine all of the infrastructure: voice, data, servers, routers and so on," he said.

By bringing two traditionally distinct departments together, states have strengthened the role information plays in government. At the same time, telecom directors, once known as the "phone people," have grown in importance thanks to their expertise at the operational end of IT. E-government, ERP and e-mail, to name a few, rely on the knowledge and resources of the telecom staff and the infrastructure they help maintain.

State telecom directors should be on top of their game, but they are struggling to maintain the status quo in the face of significant budget cuts. At the same time, they find themselves increasingly reliant on a telecom industry in financial disarray. The reliance has occurred, in part, due to the loss of valued staff members who are punching their tickets for retirement in increasing numbers. Brenda Decker, telecom director of the Division of Communication in Nebraska, likens the problems to "a nasty breaking ball from a major league pitcher."

"We've got to figure out how to stay ahead of the curve, and do it effectively and on an enterprise scale," she said.

Fuzzy Lines

Like other state telecom agencies, Nebraska's Division of Communications is doing its job with a quickly shrinking budget. In August, the state Legislature grappled with another shortfall of nearly $200 million. That dark cloud hung over Decker as she explained how her division must work within the new world of voice, video and data for state government. "Once those lines of communication and information were quite distinct," she said. "But today the line between the three has become fuzzy."

What makes Nebraska distinct is it doesn't have a separate department of information technology. It does have a CIO - Steve Schafer - who works on policy issues with the Nebraska Information Technology Commission and Decker's Division of Communications, which is housed in the Department of Administrative Services.

Organizationally, Nebraska's telecom services may not reflect today's norm, but its focus is certainly on par for the course. This includes management of voice, data and video services over lines provided by private carriers such as Qwest Communications, a global telecom company saddled with billions of dollars of debt. The state hasn't done much with new technologies, such as voice over IP [VoIP] and wireless services, but Decker expects their

Tod Newcombe  |  Features Editor