Get ready for the transition

It is a pleasure to find myself post-Y2K with the opportunity to communicate monthly with my former co-workers in the federal government and those in industry who support them. I write this from Tokyo, where, as in Washington and Ottawa, the government has set a goal of putting all its transactions online by 2003. This is the traditional approach to e-government.

But the buzz here is the growth of "I-mode" from zero to 10 million subscribers in less than a year. I-mode consists of a trim cell phone with a 1.5-by-3-inch screen that supports e-mail and limited Web access. A senior government official here said that he now sends work e-mail even from taxis but confessed that the device had also improved communications with his teenage daughters. This wired official is perhaps a second vision of e-government.

In the words of General Electric Co.'s Jack Welch, when the outside is changing faster than the inside, the end is in sight. Government by nature and design is slow to change, yet its continued legitimacy requires that it adapt to today's exponential explosion of technology and information. As we saw during Year 2000, a new form of organization — the trusted network of people supported by the Web — is emerging. And e-government must include that vision as well. The question is, are we ready for it?

Shortly, feds will face a presidential transition, which presents both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is familiar: educating the new team about agency programs, winning trust and all the while not losing momentum on key programs that in the end are found to be meritorious and need to continue. The exact opportunity is real, but unpredictable. As Year 2000 veterans, we know that such uncertainty requires strategies and plans to promote sound outcomes and to mitigate contingencies.

The certainty of the opportunity and the need for readiness are independent of who wins in November. Reinvention will continue, along with the hopeful and compelling "America @ Our Best" program that names information technology as its ultimate enabler. Alternatively, as Steven Goldsmith, the former mayor of Indianapolis and a GOP adviser, counseled recently, chief information officers should be ready to take new policy officials through a transaction demo that will reorient citizens' whole view of government. The appeal of e-government is explored in a report by a group of Harvard University experts I was part of called "Eight Imperatives for Leaders in a Networked World: Guidelines for the 2000 Elections and Beyond," which can be found at stratcom/hpg.

Finishing the work of reinvention and creating a new relationship with citizens requires that myriad forces come together in harmony. To be ready for this task requires a renewable appreciation of organizational, technological and policy trends and their implications. I'll explore the most important of those forces and trends in future columns.

McConnell, former chief of information policy and technology at the Office of Management and Budget and director of the International Y2K Cooperation Center, is president of McConnell International LLC.


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