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Looking Back Five Years Into the Future

Notes from the fourth year at Sarducci U.

by / December 1, 2006

If NBC can spin off two thinly veiled tribute shows from its Saturday Night Live franchise -- Studio 60 and 30 Rock -- for this season's prime-time schedule, then surely there's no shame in returning to a classic SNL sketch for the fourth consecutive year for inspiration in assessing this year's enduring legacy.

Such is the genius of Father Guido Sarducci's 5 Minute University -- it promised to teach only those very few things that will still matter five years after the fact. You can check Government Technology's archives for yourself, but this page's track record in being Sarducci U for the public-sector IT community is not half-bad.

In considering 2006 by the standards set by the comic father, here are five fresh nominees for the things that will matter in five years.

Carly was right. Buoyed by a new book that's equal parts biography, business insider expos<é> and leadership treatise, Carleton S. (Carly) Fiorina's time in exile seemed redeemed as she engaged in a she-who-laughs-last-laughs-best tour as Hewlett-Packard became mired in ill-advised cloak-and-dagger skullduggery followed by a tawdry cover-up. Her redemptive moment this year makes her eminently quotable again, which is a good thing because she got it right early on -- "The digital renaissance is about empowering all individuals by unlocking their richest core asset: a great idea, a great invention, even if they don't own any other assets."

Web 2.0 gains traction. From the pages of The Economist to your boss's ears, Web 2.0 has arrived. The British weekly cited Google's purchase of YouTube as the tipping point for the new release. In point of fact, Web 2.0 is larger than that and is getting traction as a full-fledged computing platform that serves Web applications to end-users. As disruptive as it is enabling, Web 2.0 marries public service and Web services and opens government to software agents that act on behalf of citizens and businesses in their relationship with government. Tax preparation was the original category killer, a regulatory compliance Web followed, and they helped create a model to automate the long tail of the rest of what government does.

The Federation strikes back. With apologies to the Star Trek franchise, the enterprise isn't what it used to be. The enterprise model has never been a good a fit with the DNA of government, or the Internet for that matter. In October, a National Association of State Chief Information Officers straw poll indicated that three-quarters of state CIOs are betting on a federated approach moving forward. Further, the Center for Digital Government's 2006 Digital States Survey indicates that more than three-quarters of states characterize their IT strategy as federated, up a third in a biennium. The new stance may best be described as consolidation without centralization, a potentially effective hedge as the entrepreneurial edge of central IT organizations is dulled by a tendency to return to their control agency origins.

Digital De Minimus. As celebrated in July's signal:noise, a decision by New York City Administrative Law Judge John B. Spooner made e-mail normal (not exceptional) in the work lives of public servants. Spooner wrote, "It should be observed that the Internet has become the modern equivalent of a telephone or a daily newspaper, providing a combination of communication and information that most employees use as frequently in their personal lives as for their work." Common sense, codified at last.

Instant messaging (IM) is public record. IM has finished an adoption arc from being treated as a toy to a tool. Along the way, several public employees -- including a curious number of police officers -- have been disciplined or booted from their respective forces for IM misuse. Then came Mark Adam Foley, the now disgraced former congressman from Florida. The scandal over his sexually explicit IMs to congressional pages proved once and for all that IMs are public records and subject to disclosure, come what may.

Still with national politics, a final happy note on the endorsement of the things that we care about from the leader of the Free World. Indeed, in a country hopelessly divided along lines of blue and red, it is nice to know that the president loves his "Internets" and uses "the Google."

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Paul W. Taylor Contributing Writer

Paul W. Taylor, Ph.D., is the editor-at-large of Governing magazine. He also serves as the chief content officer of e.Republic, Governing’s parent organization, as well as senior advisor to the Governing Institute. Prior to joining e.Republic, Taylor served as deputy Washington state CIO and chief of staff of the state Information Services Board (ISB). Dr. Taylor came to public service following decades of work in media, Internet start-ups and academia. He is also among a number of affiliated experts with the non-profit, non-partisan Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF) in Washington, D.C.

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