Leaders must embrace Information Age

Government leaders must embrace the digital revolution and revamp information technology policy or they and their communities will be left behind, according to a Harvard report released Monday.

The report, produced by a team of academics, elected officials and technology business representatives at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, says leaders must take eight important steps to make it in the networked world.

"Among the most important issues for [leaders] to address are those of the information age," said Jerry Mechling, director of strategic computing and telecommunications in the public sector at the Kennedy School of Government. "Both the opportunities and the threats are very significant."

The eight steps detailed in the report fall into two categories: things government leaders must do to transition into an electronic government and ways government itself must adapt.

These are the eight steps:

    1. Personally become involved in IT projects, not delegating all the technology responsibility to the specialists. Become familiar with computers — those who use the Internet can understand its power and can better develop plans to use it.

    2. Use IT for innovative solutions, not merely to automate traditional services.

    3. Use best practices when initiating IT projects.

    4. Improve budgeting and finance plans to deal with IT issues. Because traditional budgets are based on what governments did the year before, it's sometimes difficult to incorporate new things. Also, consider shared risk investments with the private sector to pay for new projects.

    5. Do not ignore information privacy and security, but do not allow those issues to paralyze new systems and services.

    6. Form IT partnerships with grassroots and private-sector leaders to stimulate economic development.

    7. Use IT to promote equal opportunity.

    8. Prepare for a digital democracy, making it easier for people to participate in politics.

J.D. Williams, controller for Idaho and part of the team that produced the report, said leaders must understand the risk they're taking by ignoring technology.

"If we want to survive in the digital age, we have to become technologically competent," Williams said. "There's going to be big winners and big losers."

The full report is available online at www.ksg.harvard.edu/stratcom/hpg.

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