Governors' Association Summer Meeting
Governors Should Promote Standardization<@VM>Y2K Moves to Back Shelf<@VM>IT Priorities<@VM>Connecticut Pullback Won't Halt Outsourcing Trend<@VM>Bridging the Digital Divide<@VM>GIS Technology Unifies Disparate Data
Gov. Paul Patton
by Steve LeSueur
The National Governors' Association should take the lead in helping states to develop standardized computer systems, said Gov. Paul Patton (D) of Kentucky. Bemoaning the fact that many computer systems cannot share information, Patton recommended the NGA take responsibility for standardizing the handling of information.
"Where would we be if people hadn't got together and said we're going to have standard gauge railroads?" he told the NGA's Information Technology Task Force during the association's Aug. 7-10 meeting in St. Louis.
The best vehicle for getting the standardization process started would be the ongoing survey of governors regarding their top IT priorities, said John Thomasian, director of the NGA's Center for Best Practices. The NGA survey is slated for completion this fall.
If enough governors express interest, he said, the NGA could bring together the relevant IT officials from the states to address standardization issues.
Although Year 2000 remains on the agenda, some governors are beginning to feel confident that their computer systems will be ready to face the new year.
"With Y2K, everything that needs to be done is in place," said Gov. Jim Geringer (R) of Wyoming. He anticipated that there could be five years of tinkering and fixing of non-critical systems, but the major systems will be completed either before Y2K or very soon thereafter.
Year 2000 issues, he said, "have been put on the back shelf, although we're monitoring them very intensely."
Kentucky's governor had a similar view. "They've been telling me for three years that we're ready for Y2K," said Patton. "If we don't have that one licked, somebody is in big trouble."
Iowa, Nebraska and North Dakota have reported that all their mission critical systems are ready for the Year 2000, according to the "Year 2000 Remediation Results" Web site maintained by the National Association of State Information Resource Executives. But at least 40 states said that 80 percent or more of the mission critical systems are compliant.
Gv. Jim Gillmore
Spending less time worrying about Y2K is allowing governors to concentrate on other information technology projects. Geringer said his priority is developing a technology-savvy business sector in Wyoming and helping local businesses take advantage of the Internet.
When Wyoming citizens go online to buy something, for example, they should find a Wyoming business first, he said.
"They can go off to Amazon.com eventually if that's their choice, but they ought to be able to see that Joe's Bookstore in Cheyenne has the same book for the same price," he said.
Virginia's Gov. Jim Gilmore (R) said he has established two top IT priorities for the state. The first is to use information technology to streamline and improve government operations, and the second is to make Virginia the best possible environment for developing the IT industry.
"Our goal is to make Virginia the leading information technology state in America," he said.
The private sector will continue to play a strong role in providing information technology services to the states, despite the failure of Connecticut's statewide outsourcing initiative. The states simply do not have enough people with the IT right skills to get all the necessary work done in house, said governors.
But governors do not appear eager to pursue the Connecticut's plan to turn over their states' computer systems and IT services to a single vendor. Most will likely follow a path that makes the most sense for their own state.
"We don't think any state is necessarily a harbinger yet of any type of trend" in procuring IT services, said Gilmore. He said Virginia is still exploring the best ways to procure its IT services. The IT industry changes so rapidly that governments may have to develop new models of procurement, he said.
Connecticut in December 1998 selected Electronic Data Systems Corp. of Plano, Texas, to run the state's computer systems. But negotiations for the seven-year, $1.35 billion contract broke down in June, leading Gov. John Rowland (R) to cancel the ambitious outsourcing project.
Where possible, the states should try to stimulate private-sector solutions to its IT problems and needs, said two governors. In Kentucky, for example, the state agreed to act as the "anchor tenant" for an integrated communication backbone, which meant the state guaranteed that it would purchase its bandwidth from the winning network provider. A consortium of telephone companies led by BellSouth Corp., Atlanta, formed to create the Kentucky Information Highway.
"We used the purchasing power of state government to cause the private sector to build an information highway," said Patton.
Wyoming followed a similar path in providing connectivity for its schools, said Geringer.
"You pick your best agencies and go with them first and implement the programs in which you can grasp what you're trying to do," he said.
Retired Gen. Colin Powell told the assembled governors that the nation must avoid a "digital apartheid" in which poorer children are shut out from economic opportunity because they do not have access to new Internet technologies.
"We are going upscale with information technology, an Internet-, intranet-based economy that is driving, fueling the success that we are having. We can leave no child behind," he said.
The former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff spoke to the governors as chairman of America's Promise-The Alliance for Youth, an Alexandria, Va., organization that seeks to help the nation's youth become successful adults.
To prevent a digital divide, Gilmore said the states must emphasize education and get children familiar with Internet technology and computers. He also said that states must adopt "forward-looking and visionary policies" to ensure that the Internet reaches all levels of society.
"Just as telephones are omnipresent now, there's no reason why Internet access can't be omnipresent among the entire society," he said.
Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening (D) also emphasized the importance of providing communications networks that can link rural and mountain areas with the state's business centers.
"Powell was talking primarily about schools, but we could end up talking about whole communities or sections of states unless we take the responsibility for this," he said.
Gov. Geringer, co-chairman of the IT Task Force, told governors that geographic information systems technology is a tool for getting results from technology.
"GIS allows you to show the interrelationship of information to other things, and it's that interrelationship that enables much more effective decisions on how government services ought to be delivered," he told Washington Technology.
Technology has created a revolution in decision making for governors, he said, because it can show how seemingly disparate programs, such as welfare, education and work programs, affect each other.
"We're overwhelmed with information," he said. "GIS provides a means to distill it down and make meaningful conclusions."