Governors' Association Readies Survey

Governors' Association Readies Survey

John Thomasian

By Steve LeSueur, Staff Writer

U.S. governors looking for solutions to their growing information technology needs are launching a project that could lead to greater sharing of "best practices" among the states.

The National Governors' Association will begin a survey of governors within the next two weeks that will seek to determine their top five to 10 information technology priorities and areas can collaborate in problem solving.

Results from the survey, which will be compiled by the association staff, will likely be reviewed by members of the governors' IT Task Force and presented at an association meeting slated for August in St. Louis, said John Thomasian, director of the National Governors' Association Center for Best Practices.

One of the goals of the survey will be to share lessons state officials have learned from their information technology projects, said Thomasian, whose center helps identify effective state government programs in areas such as education, social services, economic development, health and information technology.

Maine Gov. Angus King provided the spark for the National Governors' Association's technology survey at a February meeting of the governors' IT Task Force held in Washington.

"We are all faced with large proposals to spend a lot of money, and we're all really doing exactly the same thing, whether it's getting fishing licenses online or managing our welfare systems," King said at that session. "We are like a large company with 50 autonomous units that aren't talking to each other."

King suggested that the National Governors' Association act as a clearinghouse for innovative IT practices.

Washington's Democratic Gov. Gary Locke and Wyoming's Republican Gov. Jim Geringer co-chair the task force, which was created last year and is designed to help governors develop strategies for using new technologies.

Geringer regards technology as an opportunity to change fundamentally how governments deliver services. "The old structure has government as the collector and disseminator of information and services. The better structure would enable citizen access and greater personal responsibility for self delivery of services," he told Washington Technology.

John Flynn, a former chief information officer in Massachusetts and California, said governors must do better in pushing their bureaucracies to take advantage of the Internet and other technologies.

"It's not cutting edge anymore," said Flynn, who is now vice president of strategic development, state and local government, for Litton-PRC Inc. in Sacramento, Calif. "These technologies are galloping by and leaving government behind."

A related effort to share best practices has been undertaken by the National Association of State Information Resource Executives, the primary membership organization for state CIOs. In October 1997, NASIRE formed the State Information Technology Consortium, Herndon, Va., to serve as a technical arm of NASIRE and provide a forum for state information technology leaders to work together on common problems.

However, the association study will give greater visibility to the governors' shared concerns, and provide guidance for dealing with technology issues at a policy level rather than at a technical level. In addition, the NASIRE consortium, while still growing, has only 20 member states at this time.

"We work quite closely with NASIRE and expect that some of the same things that the consortium is working on will be identified as important in our survey results," said Thomasian. "The difference is that we will confirm what is on the governors' agendas, which may differ at times from what is on the information technology professionals' agendas."

The governors' task force is initiating two other major studies in preparation for its summer meeting: One will look at the best ways for states to procure information technology goods and services; the second will examine the governance of information technology.

Connecticut's Republican Gov. John Rowland has recommended that the governors consider outsourcing all of their states' information technology services to the private sector as his state is doing.

At the February meeting of governors, Rowland said state governments should focus on things like building bridges, taking care of the elderly and educating children, not developing and managing information technology. He predicted that his state would improve its information technology services and save money by privatizing this function.

Connecticut officials are negotiating a contract with Electronic Data Systems Corp., Plano, Texas, which was selected as the prime contractor for the seven-year project in December. The contract is potentially worth $1 billion.

The governors' task force also will examine Kentucky's new program for procuring information technology services. Under Democratic Gov. Paul Patton, Kentucky is creating strategic alliances with selected information technology companies to provide a wide range of services.

Finally, the governors' task force will examine how governors set their vision for using information technology and explore the role of the CIOs.

Governors recognize that information technology decisions have become critical strategic responsibilities, and many are now asserting governmentwide management through CIO positions.

"The CIO has revolutionized IT development in the state and local government marketplace," said Rishi Sood, principal analyst with Dataquest, Mountain View, Calif.

"Governors should empower CIOs by bringing them into the cabinet or having direct access to the governor."

Sood recommended, however, that CIOs be shielded from changing political tides and not be required to leave office with the cabinet when a new governor is elected. "CIOs need to be long-term, strategic assets," he said.

Beginning at the governors' summer meeting, the task force will release issue briefs summarizing the results of its various studies of the governors' IT priorities and best practices in the states, Thomasian said.

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