December 25, 2008 By Paul W. Taylor
[Editor's Note: This article originally appeared as Not That We're Likely to Forget in the December 2008 print edition of Government Technology magazine.]
This year has given us trillions of reasons to remember it -- because now it takes 13 zeros to count how much economic trouble we're in. The national debt clock in Times Square ran out of digits in September 2008 when it reached $10 trillion. Operators initially removed the dollar sign to make room for a bigger number, and they'll add a couple more digits so the tally can reach the hundreds of trillions of dollars. And so went 2008.
As has become traditional on this page -- with a wink and a nod to a classic Saturday Night Live sketch, Father Guido Sarducci's Five Minute University -- here are the five things we'll remember about 2008 in five years.
1. Getting over IT's love affair with the general fund.
In hard times, general fund budgets are easily oversubscribed by just state government's big three functions -- education, medication and incarceration. Studies updated in 2008 show only 28 states rely on the general fund as a main source for funding state IT programs. What were once characterized as under-the-radar, alternative funding schemes are now essential to the new public-sector IT funding mix.
2. Making green the new green.
The confluence of sustainability sensibilities, energy savings and telework is netting real results: energy savings in Virginia of 32 percent, or an estimated $12 million a year, by refreshing 60,000 PCs with Energy Star-rated machines; projected savings of $1 million a year in Washington state by installing energy management software on its existing PC fleet; and a double-digit spike in server usage in New York through virtualization. Utah adopted a four-day workweek for public employees, which is made possible by a robust and proven suite of e-government self-service offerings. The condensed work schedule saves trips and money while maintaining service delivery.
3. Putting the public back into public records.
Last year, disgraced former congressman Mark Foley should've been an object lesson that e-mail and IMs are public records -- read: disclosable. Former Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick learned the lesson in 2008, when 14,000 text messages made a liar of him. He resigned and agreed to a plea deal on obstruction of justice charges resulting from perjury accusations. As one legal observer succinctly put it, "'Send now' may go public later."
4. Getting us out of the way.
Human latency is the cold, clinical, science fiction-sounding term that engineers use to describe what's wrong with most business processes -- the delays we cause through our apparent inattentiveness. More sophisticated machine-to-machine Web services make human intervention unnecessary, and the presence feature of unified communications promises to track us down when we're needed -- on the device of our choice.
5. Confronting the point where mobility and utility computing meet.
Speaking of devices, mobility means that smartphones are more than cameras, e-mail clients and music players. Mobility has its own top-level domain (.mobi) and is becoming mission critical, with mobile enterprise resource planning applications in the labs and coming soon to the streets. Imagine the possibilities.
On the threshold of 2009, there's at least the prospect that a viable and sustainable future is literally in the hands of the people government serves and figuratively in the cloud. Surely we can do something with that.
This Digital Communities white paper highlights discussions with IT officials in four counties that have adopted shared services models. Our aim was to learn about the obstacles these governments have faced when it comes to shared services and what it takes to overcome those roadblocks. We also spoke with several members of the IT industry who have thought long and hard about these issues. The paper offers some best practices for shared government-to-government services, but also points out challenges that government and industry still must overcome before this model gains widespread adoption.