From the Editor: Works in Progress

Making mistakes is often an opportunity for learning something new.

There have been many areas in which I wanted to make the “short list” of picks, yet didn’t make the final cut. The best advice I ever received is to be willing to admit when things are going wrong. That’s typically the toughest part, since we all have a tendency to deny problems and mistakes, but it’s also the best place to start.

After we tackle our tendency toward denial, the next step often involves putting our mistakes out front for all to see. Once that’s done, we need to get creative about collaborating to achieve success, documenting what success looks like for ourselves and our teammates, and taking action to bring those great ideas to fruition.

That wisdom has helped guide a number of organizations mentioned in this issue of StateTech. States from Arizona to Florida to Iowa have distinguished themselves—not by patting themselves on the back for all they’ve accomplished with technology, but by carefully examining what they still need to do. Technology initiatives, IT leaders point out, don’t have a beginning, middle and end. Rather, they are part of an evolutionary process.

Washington Weighs In

For instance, IT officials in Washington, D.C., had the courage to admit that their technology infrastructure wasn’t working as well as it should. “Information technology investment in the District helped preserve dysfunctional agency data silos,” say Suzanne Peck, chief technology officer, and James Harvey, deputy CTO, in “How D.C. Successfully Integrated Technology ” on page 20.

A massive citywide initiative helped integrate the city’s enterprise architecture. The four-layer program tackled technology infrastructure changes with the city’s 66 agencies, as well as working with staffers to encourage better communication and collaboration.

The effort has paid off. Washington, D.C., used to have one of the worst technology infrastructures in the country. Now, the city is steadily climbing toward a top spot in the Center for Digital Government’s list of municipal IT infrastructures and has won many technology awards.

Our cover story, “Turbocharging Data Backups ,” deals with a different challenge: backing up critical data in a timely and cost-effective way. In that article on page 16 and in a column on page 48, Ruth Schall, MIS director for Kenosha, Wis., provides insights on how the city implemented a new disk-to-disk-to-tape system to improve the process and lick the problem.

Constantly Under Revision

Maintaining a Web site is another challenge facing state and local government. Ten years into the process, Christine O’Connor, acting CIO and IT director for the city of Tucson, Ariz., continues to update and enhance the city’s main portal for its residents. O’Connor considers the Web site “a draft that’s constantly under revision.”

Forward-thinking IT leaders like O’Connor recognize the fact that there is a big difference between the way internal groups navigate public sector organizational structures and the way citizens interact with government. In “State and Local Web Sites Try Harder ” on page 39, O’Connor and her peers in other cities and states offer expert advice on how to keep pace with changing expectations for government Web sites.

For example, West Virginia made its site more useful to residents by simply asking them what they wanted. In a focus group, citizens said that of all the high-tech features the state could add, making the phone book available online should be a top priority.

As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” Yet, when state and local governments have the courage to acknowledge problems and the willingness to work toward making needed changes, they can move along the path to success—one iteration at a time.

Lee Copeland, Editor in Chief

Oct 31 2006