Few Government Workers Are Infotech Savvy, Report Finds

Although governments at every level recognize the cost, productivity and efficiency benefits inherent in technology and electronic solutions, less than 15 percent of their employees possess the knowledge and comfort level needed to execute a successful information technology strategy.


That's the consensus of a joint research project conducted recently by IBM's Institute for Electronic Government, an interactive research and education center in Washington, D.C., and such reputable institutions as Harvard and MIT. The IBM institute, which was developed in conjunction with the Council for Excellence in Government, is designed specifically to help government personnel learn more about the intricacies of the information age.

Chock full of existing and successful government information systems and kiosks, the institute will also hold seminars and workshops; work with universities and government-related associations to explore leading-edge trends; conduct case studies and benchmarking and determine best practices across a variety of information technology issues; and host pilot projects and strategy sessions in its "Collaboratory" with such institutions as the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, the Society for Information Management and the Alliance for Redesigning Government.

"Essentially, government operates on a slightly different level than the private sector, so it has a different set of issues to deal with when making major infrastructure changes," stated Jason Dies, program manager for the institute. "Oftentimes, government is so far behind, especially on the re-engineering curve and on the information technology curve, that it takes a little pushing. So we're trying to give encouragement by showing what other government groups have accomplished, to show that there are solutions working for government and to put them in contact with other groups that have done the same type of thing."

The institute has already played host to more than 1,000 visitors, including several members of Congress, state leaders and members of the President's Management Council. It has also drawn officials from Israel, Egypt, Thailand, China, Brazil, Japan and Russia. "It's a high-volume initiative," Dies admitted. "Basically, we've been getting a lot of top-level officials who don't necessarily want to know what types of machines they should buy but want to learn about overall strategy."

Though the institute's research and collaboration goals are highly praised, its Government of the Future Studio is nonetheless proving to be the most compelling draw. Here, visitors stroll down the Main Street of an electronic town that includes a shopping mall, police station and courthouse, school, library, government administrative office and cross-agency call center. Among the technology solutions -- all but two of which are up and running somewhere in the world -- is a digital fingerprinting system, videoconferencing, smart card solutions, a digital library, self-directed and distance learning, a state information kiosk designed for Arkansas, and an interactive kiosk developed for the New York City Housing Authority, as well as applications from Australia, Europe, Mexico and Canada. Many of the solutions integrate information from multiple agencies, a scenario that has often proved problematic to government in the past.

"The Institute for Electronic Government is not so much a marketing initiative as an educational one," Dies concluded. "Obviously, though, IBM and other companies stand much to gain from a government that is knowledgeable and informed about the benefits and possibilities that technology has to offer."


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