Eye on the States: The post-election challenge: Linking IT to mission

Thomas Davies

Elections usually add an element of uncertainty and surprise to the state and local technology market. But unlike some years in which a lot of changes hang in the balance, this election year is producing a continuation of trends.
A remarkable uniformity in thinking concerning technology has settled in across the states, and the overall forces shaping the direction of technology spending are pretty well set, regardless of who wins.

That's not to say that individual companies don't have a lot at stake. The growing influence of politics on state technology spending and management means that a change at the top could bring sharp swings in state organizations, policies and personnel.

Although such changes could affect the fortunes of individual companies, they are unlikely to affect many of the fundamental market dynamics in the states. Issues such as privacy and security will still be priorities come January.

There are 11 gubernatorial races: Delaware, Indiana, Missouri, Montana, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. Some, such as Delaware, have a popular governor up for re-election, and the outcome is fairly predictable. Others, such as Indiana and Missouri, are highly contested races, and the outcome in each ? which, for these two states, could see a swing to the Republicans ? is in doubt.

What's noteworthy is that, for the most part, the candidates are not paying serious attention to technology. Most are sticking to bread-and-butter issues such as taxes, education, health care and jobs. While offshore outsourcing is a hot-button issue in some states, primarily the Midwest, the debate is about jobs and not about technology.

The greatest election impact on states is likely to come from the national level. The federal government finances the bulk of new discretionary technology investments that are made in the states. A change in the White House could cause important changes at the state and local level. A move to a balanced federal budget, for example, would put the squeeze on state and local governments and add to their financial burdens.

Changes in federal policy, such as letting the private sector handle human services eligibility determination, could break open a new business process market in the states. Moving Medicaid spending to block grants, as was done with welfare in the 1990s, could cause structural changes in the health care industry and result in new winners and losers.

This election year highlights one of the latest challenges facing state technology leaders and companies marketing solutions: how to make a clear and compelling connection between technology and the political and public policy objectives of those who have been elected. Assuming that technology will be key in any new governor's game plan is foolish. Although security, privacy and infrastructure are all essential, they won't move technology to the top of the political agenda until they are directly and clearly linked to higher goals and missions.

The post-election challenge is to move the conversation away from how much is being spent on technology ? a topic that has too many state officials and technology executives inordinately preoccupied ? and toward how much technology is contributing to the mission and performance goals of the states.

The critical issue isn't what percent of the states' expenditures will go to technology ? it's about 4 percent, depending on who is counting and what is being counted ? but what impact technology will have on the remaining 96 percent and with what results. n

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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