Eye on the States: Technology has little to do with e-gov phenom

Thomas Davies

Like everyone else, you're probably in search of the next great market opportunity in state and local government. If you were hoping to have another tidal wave like e-government to ride, you're probably out of luck. Market opportunities such as e-gov come around once in a lifetime, if at that.

To understand why, start with the term "e-gov" itself. E-gov can be, and often is, almost anything you or your state and local customers want it to be. Depending on who you talk to in state and local, e-gov is about transforming government, about moving government transactions online, about digitizing government and about delivering electronic services to citizens.

Something for everyone; that's a great foundation to build upon in a market that is known for its diversity of interests and unique requirements.

It should come as no surprise, therefore, that elected state and local officials, notorious for embracing proposals that have something for everyone, fell hard for e-gov. Those who control the purse strings in state and local government find e-gov easy to relate to.

In the early days, just hinting at how many citizens were going to visit the e-gov Web site, and how this would lead to unimagined levels of visibility and good press, was enough to get the money flowing. Of course it didn't hurt that the spouses and children of those who controlled the purse strings were also raving about how easy it was to do business with government online.

This leads to another important quality of e-gov: It appeals to everyone's most idealized notions of what state and local government can -- and should -- be: responsive, always there to help at no additional cost to the taxpayer.

This explains why there is no real opposition to e-gov in state and local government. Both sides of the political aisle have embraced it -- those who believe in a stronger role for government as well as those whose goal is to shrink the size of government.

A more subtle, but equally critical, quality of e-gov is that it has never really been about the technology. For the most part, to get funding for e-gov, you didn't have to bore everyone with mind-numbing details about a new technology. E-gov spending actually embraced all possible technologies under its banner, including servers, software, hosting and databases, to name just a few.

You would be hard pressed to find a technology that wasn't repositioned as e-gov. This meant that everyone in the technology industry has had a vested interest and stake in the success of the state and local e-gov market.

Not only does e-gov have something for everyone in the technology industry, it has something for everyone in state and local government. This quality, perhaps more than any other, is what accounts for the breadth of support for e-gov across state and local government. Regardless of whether you're a state, city, county, school, airport or port authority, e-gov has value for you. And whether your mission is to protect citizens, promote their health, or provide for their safety and welfare, there is a place for e-gov in your program.

The end game for e-gov has always been a moving target. Just when you think the game is almost over, you discover someone has moved the goal posts. There was the e-brochure phase, followed by the e-portal phase, followed by the e-transaction phase. Now we're in the e-integration phase. The e-gov era in state and local will not be over until everyone says it is.

So as you search for the next big thing in the state and local market, keep the lessons of e-gov in mind. Market opportunities in state and local can have less to do with technology than they do with the market forces that the technology unleashes.

Thomas Davies is senior vice president at Current Analysis Inc. in Sterling, Va. His e-mail address is tdavies@currentanalysis.com.

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