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Digital States Survey: Which States Are the Best of the Best?

Idaho and Connecticut take home "most improved" honors in the 2014 Digital States Survey, while other states are singled out for technology success in specific program areas.

by , / September 29, 2014

Earlier this month, e.Republic's Center for Digital Government released its 2014 Digital States Survey, which gives states an overall grade based on how well they are using digital technology. On the whole, the results were encouraging, with 21 states improving their grades since the last survey in 2012.

As a follow-up to the main survey, the Center also examined specific program areas to see which states set the standard for using technology to deliver some of government's most vital services. The result is our 2014 Best Practice Leaders -- seven states that excel in using modern technology and innovative techniques to support key policies and crucial programs, along with two states that showed the biggest improvement in this year's survey.


Category: Adaptive Leadership
Winner: Connecticut
Overall Grade: A- 
Runners up: Ohio, Delaware, New Jersey and Minnesota

The Digital States Survey's Adaptive Leadership category measures how well a state's technology initiatives match the policy priorities of its governor. Connecticut came out on top, thanks to a series of smart moves supporting Gov. Dannel Malloy's efforts to close a large state budget deficit and shore up neglected IT infrastructure. The Office of Policy and Management launched a statewide program to improve agency business processes using Lean management principles. Business process changes are being supported by new technology, like an enterprise identity and access management platform launched in conjunction with the quasi-public Access Health CT. As of late last year, these efforts had reduced operating costs by more than $4 billion, the state reported. Connecticut also created a $50 million Enterprise IT Investment Fund that provides money for shared services projects that align with state business objectives. Twenty-four projects have received funding so far. A committee of seven agency commissioners governs the fund.

state of Utah

Category: Enterprise ICT
Winner: Utah
Overall Grade: A
Runners up: 
Missouri, Virginia, Michigan and Kentucky

Besides earning one of the few A grades in the overall Digital States Survey, Utah topped the ICT category, which measures the performance of a state’s enterprise technology agency. Utah’s consolidated Department of Technology Services (DTS) boasts a slew of accomplishments over the past several years. In 2012, the department moved all executive branch agencies to Google Apps for Government, cutting the cost of running email and productivity apps by half. Virtual desktop services have been widely adopted and a new enterprise client support platform provides a complete inventory of software installed on 23,000 state agency desktops. In addition, the DTS is implementing a software-defined data center. The state says the transition from mainframe computing to a new virtual systems open computing environment is nearly complete. Just one mainframe application will remain once Utah finishes deploying a new Medicaid management information system. Meanwhile, the state’s portal added 123 online services and processed more than 63 million transactions over the past two years.

Finance and Administration
Winner: Washington
Overall Grade: B+
Runners up: 
Indiana, Idaho, Virginia and Pennsylvania

Washington says its new open data portal provides better transparency for citizens and is transforming how the state reports on the performance of state projects. For instance, recovery of salmon populations is a policy priority for Gov. Jay Inslee. A 150-page salmon recovery report is released every two years, typically costing $50,000 to produce, not including staff time. Using information from the state open data portal, the report now updates automatically. In addition, more than a dozen projects are under way to support a 2013 procurement reform law intended to promote competition, centralize oversight, encourage small business participation and increase accountability. Last year, Washington’s Department of Revenue upgraded its e-filing system to give users the option to file amended tax returns electronically. The department also launched several initiatives to improve tax collection using location technology. A new mobile app uses the GPS function in smartphones and other mobile devices to look up tax rates. This allows the app to find the tax rate and code for the exact spot where a delivery person is standing. In addition, the department uses GIS to automate and validate the collection of property data from utility companies, which is used to assess their property taxes.

state of Indiana
Public Safety
Winner: Indiana
Overall Grade: B+
Runners up: 
Vermont, Kansas, Alabama and North Dakota

Indiana public safety agencies underwent a massive digitization effort, making more than 1 million records searchable online, including gun permits, criminal history records and fingerprint cards. The effort eliminated 20,000 square feet from their physical footprint, freeing up that space for other agencies. Other manual systems have been streamlined electronically as well, including tax warrant processing and the vehicle citation system.  
The state has also made great strides in public safety information-sharing. The Judicial Technology and Automation committee has made state courts interoperable with one another, and the executive branch, achieving significant cost savings. A new electronic system also grants access to better data on mental health concerns that could influence firearm permitting decisions -- data that is also shared with the FBI to ensure that permits are also denied when an individual crosses state lines. A new Indiana Protection Order Registry coordinates communication between law enforcement agencies and victims, while a Web-based Egrant system, preconfigured for many federal public safety grants, serves as a single source for grant-related information.

Health and Human Services
Winner: Kentucky
Overall Grade: B+
Runners up: Connecticut, California, Pennsylvania and Georgia 

Lauded for the successful implementation of the Kentucky Health Benefit Exchange, a feat that eluded so many other states, the multi-agency collaboration involved a phased rollout of its eligibility and enrollment, and plan maintenance and billing systems, in accordance with ACA deadlines. But why did Kynect succeed where others failed? Analysts credit the state's head start -- they began work after the law was passed in 2010 rather than waiting for the Supreme Court decision in 2012 -- and no-frills usability as key reasons. Kentucky also built an integrated case management portal on top of its exchange, and incorporated fraud detection capabilities. The true success of Kynect, as championed by Gov. Steve Beshear, is in the numbers: the state now boasts the highest number of insured citizens per capita in the U.S., according to state officials.
Kentucky also developed the statewide KARES portal, a background check program that integrates with FBI data to make sure employees of long-term care facilities aren't concealing crimes committed out of state. 

state of Virginia
Winner: Virginia
Overall Grade: A-
Runners up: Colorado, Missouri, Wisconsin and Maine

The Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles is now helping the state guard against fraud and abuse with a new customer service system that verifies information supplied by social service applicants against their DMV record. The state reports that the Commonwealth Authentication System, honored by GovernmentTechnology earlier this year, gets 4,000 logins per day. The DMV's MySelect app replaces a legacy Unix-based application with a modern interface for customers. Service improvements include 162 new transaction options, automated service alerts and integration with the DMV queueing system. Transitioning from the old servers saves nearly $1 million annually. The upgrade also allows real-time verification of birth certificate data, permitting the agency to issue birth certificates at all locations as well as fulfill certain testing needs of other state agencies. 
The DOT is implementing a cloud-based traffic management system, which helps track highway safety patrol vehicles and personnel, while continuing to upgrade its 511 system with more coordinated communications. An extranet now improves collaboration with external transportation partners, like contractors, business partners and local governments.

Category: Citizen Engagement
Overall Grade:
Runners up: 
Mississippi, Hawaii, Arkansas and California

The first state out of the gate with an open data portal in 2009, it's hard to argue with Utah's distinction as tops in citizen engagement. The state offers full visibility into its financial matters, and all meetings where the public's business is discussed. Their next portal update will include a statewide public records request system and an online portal of legislative emails. Utahns now have access to air quality data archives, and the state's Department of Environmental Quality hopes to tap into citizen innovation with a big data contest aimed at improving air quality. Nearly 1,100 online services await citizens at, which save $13.20 for every online transaction completed. That added up to more than $831 million in 2012-13. Adoption rates are at 100 percent for online educator license renewal and storage tank certification, while other licensure services are well over 90 percent. Utah's mobile strategy, published in 2013, aims to make state services available regardless of user platform. Since 2013, the number of state sites using responsive design has grown by 500 percent. Utah added a wearable app to its portfolio earlier this year with a public transit app for Google Glass. The state also boasts significant social media engagement, using a searchable master data index to integrate social content with the rest of its online presence. An extensive analytics program helps the state measure how well social media campaigns are influencing metrics like page views and service adoption. One impressive stat, according to the state, is the addition of more than 200,000 Google Plus followers in the past two years.

state of IdahoCategory: Most Improved
Overall Grade: 

Idaho's jump from a D in 2012 to a B in this year's survey is explained in part by a 2013 law establishing the Idaho Technology Authority, a legislative committee that replaced the Information Technology Resource Management Council. The new governing body sets IT policy and has approval authority for large-scale technology projects in the state. Changes align with Gov. Butch Otter's desire for more efficient, collaborative IT programs. Idaho is moving to the cloud in a major way, supported by 2013 legislation that exempts cloud services from state sales tax. The state's official strategy includes plans to transition licensing, permitting, GIS, email and ERP systems to hosted platforms.

Most Improved
Overall Grade:

Connecticut posted one of the biggest improvements in this year’s survey, jumping from a C grade in 2012 to an A- in 2014. The state benefited from a strong commitment to modernization by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who inherited neglected IT infrastructure upon taking office in 2011. Savvy decision-making by state agency leaders aligned technology deployments with Malloy’s policy agenda. A statewide Lean management initiative is improving state business processes – and saving billions, according to the state – while a new Enterprise IT Investment Fund is funneling millions of dollars into upgraded systems that support the needs of multiple state agencies. Furthermore, the state’s highly regarded Access Health CT health insurance exchange exceeded goals for enrollment in its first year of operation, and Connecticut has worked with a number of other states to share best practices from its exchange. 

State images from Shutterstock.

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Steve Towns

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic. 

Noelle Knell Editor

Government Technology editor Noelle Knell has more than 15 years of writing and editing experience, covering public projects, transportation, business and technology. A California native, she 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. She can be reached via email and on Twitter.

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