Officials: States should use IT to save money

National Association of State Chief Information Officers

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SAN DIEGO – Future federal and state government budgets will be consumed by rising health care and welfare costs if they are not held in check. But using information technology would help transform the way the government does business, delivers services and becomes more efficient, several current and former state government officials said.

Facing a multibillion-dollar budget shortfall this year, California formed a new IT department this summer aimed at reducing redundancy, improving security and buying power, and better supporting state agencies.

“There’s a general sense throughout the state that something is broken,” Clark Kelso, the state’s chief information officer, said during the National Association of State CIOs’ (NASCIO) annual conference yesterday. “They don’t know what, but something is broken.”

One approach is incrementally implementing the more than 1,400 recommendations listed in the California Performance Review report, which documents ways to cut wasteful spending and improve operations. Technology has a large role to play, according to the report published last year. Kelso said the recommendations are being implemented incrementally because there are so many.

But Kelso said government will not be able to transform without IT and that technologies should be adopted beyond government. He said every state should have a Wi-Fi structure to transform “where we live our lives.” For example, telecommuting could help address issues such as air pollution and traffic congestion, he said.

In Texas, there has been a yearlong initiative to help state agencies move forward as an enterprise and focus on delivering outcomes using IT, said Larry Olson, the state’s CIO. He said officials have been spending a significant amount of time building a collaborative government to share services and best practices, and to maximize resources for agencies, local governments and public universities.

But change shouldn’t be incremental, said Matt Miszewski, Wisconsin’s CIO and NASCIO’s incoming president. He said change needs to be revolutionary and fast. Governments must move at twice the speed of the private sector to keep up, and officials should question everything and challenge every assumption. They must pay attention to detail and stop relying on mission, vision and value statements, he added.

It’s a “large structural problem that will not be addressed through incremental change,” he said. “If we are going to save the good work of state government, we’re going to create a structural solution and we’re going to make it sustainable.”

Experts said government agencies should weave technology into the work they conduct to better help them deliver services.

“If you budget technology as a separate line item in your budget, you don’t know how to use it,” said former Wyoming Gov. Jim Geringer, who is now ESRI’s director of policy and public-sector strategies. He said the greatest cost in technology is not hardware or software but how people use it.

Brenda Decker, Nebraska’s CIO for the past eight months, said the state’s governor and Legislature are engaged in IT spending. The state will be completely consumed by health care costs in 10 years, making health care the state’s only business by then, she said.

Nebraska officials are looking to deliver services electronically across the state to its scattered residents. She said it’s also trying to create one face of government, whether it’s state or local government or public education so citizens can focus on getting service delivery.

But William Eggers, director for Deloitte Research’s public-sector practice and a former Texas official, said technology has largely disappeared from governors’ state of the state speeches in the past few years, adding that governments have been stuck in an Industrial Age mind-set.

He said government must innovate, using IT and artificial intelligence to deliver a personalized education to every child instead of batch processing kids as it’s been done.

He also pointed to the military’s use of network-centric warfare, which has revolutionized the way it wages war. That approach provides soldiers with the same situational awareness as commanders. He said 311 systems in major municipalities could have the same effect in transforming government by showing officials where services are needed and redirecting them.

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