The Enterprise Fights Back

These days, if you go to a conference for the National Governors' Association, the National Association of Counties or the National League of Cities, you can bet that at some point an elected official will get up and say something like, "You should see what we're doing back home in Whichway Junction with information technology. It is empowering our citizens, lowering the cost of government and attracting high-tech jobs to our area. In fact we've started calling ourselves 'Silicon Junction.' "

IT is becoming a touchstone of local politics and a basic, even essential, tool for improving the quality of state and local government services. That's good-at least for a while. Then it seems, as more and more IT is added across the government enterprise, some legal or regulatory repair is necessary to prevent unforeseen social, economic or political consequences or even abuses of IT.

Several of our stories this month have in common the idea that government executives who want to promote the general welfare cannot simply add more IT to a problem and hope for smooth productivity gains. Ultimately, they will run up against a wall where the technology exerts an equal but negative opposing force. Then IT can be more of a political problem than something to crow about on the stump.

Our cover story this month, for example, is about how state and local government policy-makers, their counterparts in the federal sphere and electronic commerce companies are grappling with how to tax transactions done over the Internet. On one hand, you hear local officials proclaim the Internet as a magic carpet that economic prosperity will ride into town on, and then you hear others complain that it is robbing the community of its tax base.

Another example is our story about the new breed of supermax prisons. These high-tech bastions are a corrections officer's dream. Corrections officers practically never have to come into physical contact with inmates. But as one observer has pointed out, most inmates-even those in a supermax-eventually will get out. We don't know what these high-tech incubators will cast back upon us.

Meanwhile, Connecticut last month abandoned its experiment of seeking an enterprisewide IT solution-at least one provided by a single vendor-for its executive branch agencies. The politics and management of attempting so sweeping a change ultimately was too tough to handle.

State and local governments are beginning an era of creating and tying together systems across the government enterprise. These stories show that it will take extraordinary political power and leadership to bring about these important infrastructure changes. They also show how important it is for IT executives throughout the state and local community to share their successes and failures. While the experiences might be local, the lessons learned can be applied throughout the community.

Paul McCloskey



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