Report: Leaders ignore IT at their peril

Technology can make a difference in people's lives, but many government leaders are uncomfortable with it, according to a Harvard University report issued Thursday that spells out steps leaders should take to succeed in a knowledge-based economy.

Not long ago, many government leaders did not consider technology a priority and delegated responsibility for it, said Jerry Mechling, director of the Center for Strategic Computing at Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Leaders thought technology was over-hyped, risky and time-consuming, Mechling said. But the Internet has since become so visible that they cannot ignore it any longer.

"This is sharing what life is, what work is, what government is, who we are," Mechling said.

Two years ago, Mechling created the Harvard Policy Group on Network-Enabled Services and Government, a group of 41 public- and private-sector officials, leaders and technology experts who would explore the impact of technology on government. The group's report — the second in a series called "Eight Imperatives for Leaders in a Networked World" — spelled out guidelines for leaders to follow. They include:

    * Developing a network of technology-savvy advisers.

    * Using technology personally on a daily basis.

    * Publicizing and discussing plans and educating people to gain support for resources and technology initiatives.

    * Analyzing and identifying how IT can be used to add value.

    * Fostering a learning environment for staff members to harness their "natural enthusiasm and skills."

    * Investing in flexible infrastructure and electronic services that are scalable across agencies and broader communities

    * Redesigning workflow to make government more efficient and focusing on creating opportunities for "one-stop, non-stop, self-service government"

Scott Howell, a Utah state senator and a member of the Harvard group, said if an elected official has not incorporated technology into his or her vocabulary, then the official will not be re-elected.

"Technology is non-partisan," he said. "It doesn't recognize Republicans. It doesn't recognize Democrats. It doesn't recognize independents. It recognizes making people's lives better."

The report was unveiled at the National Electronic Commerce Coordinating Council's annual conference in Las Vegas. NECCC is a consortium of national state government associations. The group's next seven reports are to be released during the next year.

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