December 3, 2008 By Steve Towns, Editor
What issues had the biggest influence on government's technology use in 2008? That's a broad question and a tough one to answer. I'll take a crack at it, anyway. The following list is subjective, but it's based on topics that drove our coverage throughout the year, and it's shaped by what we heard from readers at events across the country. These particular issues are significant because each drove multiple IT-related activities this year -- and they'll continue to do so in 2009.
Before we reach the main course, though, I'll add a few caveats. My list could easily include data security and mobile applications. I chose to leave them off. Security is a bottom-line concern that's crucial any year; therefore, it didn't shape 2008 any more than last year. Mobility's growing like wildfire, but it's narrower than the topics below.
So, here are three issues that made the cut:
Let's take care of the bad news first. Budgets for many states and localities were bad throughout 2008 -- and they were poised to worsen as the year ended. Individual and corporate tax revenues were an early casualty of the slowing U.S. economy, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), which tracks state budget issues. October's stock market nosedive will push revenue collection lower still, the group said.
"This situation is as bad as I've ever seen it," said NCSL Executive Director Bill Pound, in a mid-October statement. "States have been confronted with bad economic circumstances in the past, but not so many and not all at once. State budgets have a very rough road ahead."
From a technology perspective, the crumbling economy has several implications. With fewer dollars to go around, budget prioritization became a dominant concern. Over the year, we talked to many CIOs who sought to strengthen IT governance, and they were exploring tools like the ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) and portfolio management to do it.
Mounting fiscal pressure also will intensify the consolidation trend that's been under way for the past few years. Nearly anywhere you went in 2008, state and local agencies were merging separate IT systems and staffs to wring every last bit of value from their technology investments. Among the 2008 milestones: Indiana finished a consolidation initiative that pared the number of state data centers from five to one and eliminated multiple communications networks, e-mail systems and help-desk functions. The move saves the state $14 million annually, according to state CIO Gerry Weaver. In Colorado, Gov. Bill Ritter signed an IT consolidation bill in May to overhaul how that state manages IT. Colorado's 1,200 IT employees now report to the state's central IT office, and CIO Mike Locatis has more authority over project approvals.
Tight budgets influenced application strategies too. More government CIOs acknowledge that they'll likely own less technology as concepts like cloud computing and software as a service mature. Vivek Kundra, chief technology officer (CTO) of Washington, D.C., was a pioneer in this movement, adopting hosted collaboration and project management applications for his organization.
"We decided to go with the cloud model instead of buying a ton of servers that would have taken me six to seven months to procure, configure and deploy. We were able to do that immediately," Kundra told Government Technology earlier this year. "When we look at the platform in terms of collaboration, everything's going to be in the cloud. As we're looking at the whole data center model, the question really becomes, 'Why do we need a data center?'"
CIOs still have concerns about trusting sensitive data and applications to the cloud, but look for more jurisdictions to follow Kundra's lead as hosted services expand and the financial case becomes