Gates, Powell: IT’s benefits should be visible

Gates, Powell: IT’s benefits should be visible

One is the richest man in the world; the other a former secretary of State. Both had a similar message this week: Governments implementing IT to improve service and efficiency is just a beginning. The gains from new IT must be appreciable, if only anecdotally.

Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and former secretary of State Colin Powell addressed a gathering of government officials from Latin America and Canada yesterday during Microsoft’s Government Leaders Forum in Washington. The forum is designed to bring together foreign agencies to discuss issues such as education, governance, transformation and economics, and to identify ways that IT can help.

For his part, Gates lauded the progress of e-government initiatives but said they must come with milestones that agencies should attain, whether it’s a number of transactions processed, a productivity benchmark or a comparison against other countries’ initiatives.

“Give it visibility or progress ceases,” Gates said.

Powell told attendees that during his tenure at State he oversaw the deployment of more than 44,000 network-enabled computers but wasn’t satisfied until he could ensure they were being used to improve the department’s operations. Upon visiting U.S. embassies overseas, Powell said, he would often pretend to use the restroom, then sneak into offices, boot up the nearest system and make sure it could connect to networked resources.

“I wanted to make sure what I asked to happen actually happened,” he said.

Powell also said that when he first started at State he was unhappy with the department’s Web site, which was often out of date. Simply having a site isn’t good enough, he said.

“If I see on CNN in the morning that a country has changed its foreign minister, we better have it changed on our site by the time I get to the office,” Powell said. “You have to get your thinking changed.”

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