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As Digital Government Evolves, Its Mission Stays the Same

With every new technology that hits the public sector, from cloud computing to AI, agencies grapple with how to make it work toward achieving their core goal: an accessible, secure government experience.

People walking in a city street with overlay of digital lines suggesting data transfers
Adobe Stock/Stavros
Change tends to be incremental. But if you stack up that change over a period of years, it starts to look transformational.

It is rare in today’s media landscape for a publication to boast an archive of more than 35 years, but Government Technology is one such magazine. Reaching back into the vault, a previous story featured the subhead “Police departments across the country are beginning to use the World Wide Web to interact with the public.” That one was from 1995, and it shows. But what would your guess be as to the dateline on a story in which state and county health agencies are using technology to share data to provide better services to the public? It could be 2005 or it could be 2023. (In fact, that story was written in 2010.)

The National Association of State Chief Information Officers (actually, its predecessor organization, NASIRE) published a paper in 2001 called Creating Citizen-Centric Digital Government: A Guide for the States. Here’s an excerpt:

“In coming years, the citizen will use the Internet to build a relationship with government that is personal, custom-built for each user with features that are accessible. Digital government will be easy to use, consistent in its appearance and functionality, offer a complete selection of services that are unified across agencies, and available around the clock. Citizens will be aware of their rights to privacy and able to control governmental use of their personal information.”

Current NASCIO President and Tennessee CIO Stephanie Dedmon set out to assess progress against the goals outlined in that paper, publishing a companion report this year. It points to a catalog of citizen-facing digital accomplishments recognized by NASCIO in the intervening years, including Tennessee’s MyTN App, which offers users more than 60 services from many different departments accessible with single sign-on. The updated report also includes evidence of how the personalized, user-focused, cyber- and privacy-aware aspirations have matured in the real world, creating new challenges along the way. The larger goals of effective technology that is focused on the user, however, remain largely the same.

A recent report from KPMG, Tomorrow’s Government Today, surveyed residents and government leaders at the state and federal levels, acknowledging some of the challenges ahead for CIOs. Government executives view deploying new technology as a challenge — 72 percent say it will be “moderately difficult” while almost 25 percent say it will be “very difficult.”

But they also have to keep up with resident expectations: “Sixty-four percent of constituents say governments need further enhancements to customer service, efficiency and accessibility, with 70 percent wanting governments to embrace advanced technologies, such as 5G for faster communication and AI for improved efficiency,” reads another finding.

But these ideas aren’t necessarily in conflict. We have made a lot of progress since the dawn of the Internet, and there is still much to do. The spirit of continuous improvement that pervades public-sector IT offices is an encouraging sign that today’s leaders are committed to making incremental change in government despite what they’re up against. The mission is worth it.

This story originally appeared in the December issue of Government Technology magazine. Click here to view the full digital edition online.
Noelle Knell is the executive editor for e.Republic, responsible for setting the overall direction for e.Republic’s editorial platforms, including Government Technology, Governing, Industry Insider, Emergency Management and the Center for Digital Education. She has been with e.Republic since 2011, and has decades of writing, editing and leadership experience. A California native, Noelle has worked in both state and local government, and is a graduate of the University of California, Davis, with majors in political science and American history.