In a few decades computer and telecommunication technologies evolved from a few very large number crunching calculators connected through several universities to mission critical circuitry embedded in the fundamental economic and social fabric of society. What started at the beginning of one decade as novel new equipment designed to run early government financial and case management systems evolved in the next into customer facing Internet-enabled government service delivery. Still, how quickly and effectively government took advantage of and adopted these new technologies varied greatly across states and local governments. This variation was primarily distinguished by leadership that saw vast new opportunities and sought to leverage them and those that did not.
Effectively using the power of information technology in government requires both visioning and superior execution of that vision. But to more fully understand the evolution of IT one also must talk about the ends toward which information technology strives. IT has always been about improving the “how” of government through improving productivity and efficiency. But to view IT from this prospective alone is short sighted. The late 1990’s saw an increase in the creation of Chief Information Officers (CIOs). In Utah the first CIO was hired in 1997. This job description was an attempt to bring IT out of the back office and into the board room. It was an acknowledgment that IT needed to have a seat at the executive table along with the other CXOs including financial officers, operations chiefs and governors. Utah’s IT transformation took place in several distinct phases under three different CIO’s each representing a specific focus and challenge.
The first CIO, David Moon began the process of challenging the perennial problem of government fragmentation in an effort to bring about a more coordinated approach to IT (NEW CHIEF INFORMATION OFFICER IS A CAN-DO TYPE OF GUY http://archive.li.suu.edu/docs/ms122/NW/ms122NW19980121a.pdf). Still the Moon legacy rests more with his ability to move Utah government into the 21st century by bringing key citizen and business services online when few tax dollars were allocated specifically to this activity. This was accomplished while a major share of IT funding was being directed to keeping aging back office systems afloat as they increasingly became at risk of being infected by the Y2K “bug.” (See note at bottom)
In the wake of the collapse of the dot.com bubble an urgent need arose for increased efficiency and productivity of IT, which became a priority for a Legislature faced with a wave of cost cutting. The need for more simplification and consolidation of IT services became a hotly contested discussion both within and external to the Leavitt administration. The second CIO Phillip Windley was confronted once again with the problem of built-in government fragmentation that was putting the reliability and security of state IT systems at risk. His major contribution was promoting the understanding that an IT architecture needed to be developed around and supported by consistent and repeatable processes. This approach was essential for the high reliability, availability, and serviceability of IT systems and services. In other words the IT culture needed to be less about “cowboys” and more about “engineers.” One of Windley’s key successes in eliminating government silos was the promotion and institutionalization of the utah.gov “brand”, which included the move of state agency applications and websites away from .org and .com to a name that better signified Utah government (A FEW THOUGHTS ON OUTGOING STATE CIO PHIL WINDLEY http://archive.li.suu.edu/docs/ms122/NW/ms122NW20021216.pdf).
Governor Leavitt many times commented that IT had the power to transform government but that problems associated with transformation were more about “sociology than technology.” The third CIO of the Leavitt/ Walker administrations Val Oveson, recognized this key truth and moved to directly act on the need for improved collaboration among various sectors of the executive branch as well as reaching across branches of government to do the same. Through each of the CIO’s tenure, Utah’s status among states continued to improve as the innovation in IT government service delivery continued to expand. Cross agency collaborative projects such as the OneStop Business Registration (OSBR) and the business.utah.gov portal came to fruition under the collaborative leadership of Oveson.
Governor Leavitt and the team that surrounded him clearly saw the connection not only to improving government service through the use of IT but also understood the multiplier effect it had on stimulating businesses and economic growth. Utah’s leadership among the most technology saavy states was established throughout the Leavitt and Walker years. Examples remain today of many legacy work products developed and supported by countless public servants who believed in the Leavitt vision and in helping government be best it could be.
Footnote: The problems Y2K was an error of procrastination which became more risky as the year 2000 approached. It was caused by the inability to perceive that computer systems built in the 20th century would still exist in the 21st. Calculation based computer programs were built using a two-digit year code thus being unable to distinguish any date in the previous hundred years from a new date in the 21st century.