Who's winning the tech race?
- By Pari Sabety
- Jun 04, 2001
Ohio may be the tortoise in the dot-com race, compared to the hares we've
watched take a dive on the stock markets during the past few months.
Who would suspect that Ohio, sole among Midwestern states in "flyover"
country, is home to four "cybercities" one of only six states so endowed,
according to AeA. Today, economic developers throughout the Midwest are
fielding calls from California companies in search of locations with room
for growth, ample power, fresh water and a new ingredient "connectedness."
Visionaries and futurists say that the information revolution is constructing
a new, networked world, in which everyone, everywhere is connected to everything.
In this world, computing will be pervasive gadgets from simple home appliances
to the continuous glucose monitors used by diabetics will be connected to
For states, regions, cities and localities concerned about their place
in this brave new world, the currency of competition in the decades to come
will be the breadth, depth and pervasiveness of connections connectedness
to the network, because communication is the lifeblood of business. Communications
capacity must be reliable, diverse, redundant and fail-safe. The question
for communities is: How do we know we are ready for this new, networked
During the past 50 years, we have developed a robust set of tools with
which to measure the adequacy of infrastructure: our highway networks, the
capacity of our airports, the peak power requirements we can support, and
the quality of our water and sewer networks.
The Computer Systems Policy Project (www.cspp.org) has developed a comprehensive
series of benchmarks for communities to use to assess their readiness for
global e-commerce and a new, networked world. Those benchmarks focus on
several critical areas: network capacity, availability and quality; access
to critical services; public access; and key areas ripe for networked applications,
such as health care and government services.
Using the project's benchmarks, states such as Ohio and Maryland, and
regional urban centers such as Tucson, Ariz., and Fort Collins, Colo., have
developed their own assessment efforts to measure their connectedness.
In each case, those efforts have been undertaken to promote investments
in information infrastructure, position the debate over the digital divide,
spur new business innovation or provide valuable information to state and
private-sector leaders developing agendas to advance a region's information
For example, through its assessment process, Ecom Ohio (www.ecom-ohio.org),
Ohio has built a strong, sure understanding of the ways in which the information
revolution will transform our traditional sectors of economic strength automotive, transportation and logistics, agriculture and financial services.
A tortoise, indeed.
However, the groundbreaking work of these pioneering communities is
less useful than it might be if comparable data for other states or regional
or national averages existed. At the federal level, national performance
indicators and benchmarks for a "networked world" have not yet been developed,
nor is standard data being collected on a consistent, nonproprietary basis.
At the state and local level, the complexity of the effort seems daunting.
It is a legitimate role of government to standardize the measurement
of data about this new driver of economic development, and ensure open access
During the next decade, regions, states and the federal government
will be taking policy actions that will affect the continued growth and
development of the new, networked world and unleash its transformational
potential for many traditional sectors of the economy. Doing so in the
absence of critical objective data will slow progress and impede constructive
action for communities struggling to define their place in the networked
We urgently need a national database of comparative data that will provide
state-to-state and regional comparisons and from which findings will be
regularly disseminated. Let us join the tortoises in this race so that states
and regions can learn from one another and begin to take shared action to
overcome the critical digital divides occurring in our economies.
Sabety is director of the Technology Policy Group at the Ohio Supercomputer
Center, Columbus, Ohio.