Success Raises IT Bar

"Success is harder to absorb than failure," wrote Theodore H. White, the late reporter and historian. "Failure leaves things as they are; success changes the conditions of life and brings new, undreamed of problems."

This maxim brings to mind the contentious debate over Internet taxes. Were electronic commerce not expected to play a major role in this nation's economy, no one would be debating the issue with such acrimony. Clearly, the states and businesses realize that a lot is at stake.

Unfortunately, similar technology-related problems in public policy are not receiving the same attention.

Consider the role of technology in the classroom. Across the country, schools are applying for federal grants or selling bonds to pay for computers and Internet access. But in many districts, these initiatives tail off once the computers are installed.

Moreover, teachers have not been trained to work with the technology, to say nothing of incorporating it into their lesson plans. This must change. The computer, a gateway to almost unimaginable educational resources, eventually will be part of the core curriculum in our nation's schools. Untrained teachers and their students will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage.

The problems are even more puzzling in health care.

Advances in network technology, videoconferencing software and medical-imaging applications have converged to create a new and affordable way to improve medical services in remote regions of our states. For some house-bound patients, this is not merely a convenience — it's a lifesaver.

This technology is widely available, but it often goes unused. The problem involves funding shortages, insurance problems and legal questions. So while interest in telemedicine is high, it could take years to untangle it from all the red tape.

And as if navigating these public-policy issues were not enough, state and local agencies are having a difficult time putting technology to use on their own behalf.

Agencies are working hard to improve access to government services by putting them online. The potential seems endless. For example, a number of states are developing World Wide Web portals that provide a single point of access to a large number of services.

But this rush to the Internet has put agency Webmasters on the hot seat. Increasingly, the Webmaster has become a critical player in helping governments deliver services. Yet the person bearing the Webmaster moniker often has not been prepared to deal with mounting technical challenges or the questions of privacy and security they find themselves facing.

It helps to realize that we have run into problems at this point because of the successes we have had so far. But these are problems we must address before we get much farther.

John Stein Monroe

Editor

civic.com

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