“A chicken in every pot and a car in every garage” – election slogan for Herbert Hoover, claiming that the everyone will be prosperous under a Hoover presidency.
The 2010 election is over, the winning politicians are now being magically converted into “elected officials”, and technology in government is marching on, sometimes with different elected and CIO leadership. I’ve blogged before about the difficult intersection of politics and technology.
Being a Chief Information Officer in government is, in many ways, similar to being a CIO in any other organization – public, private, non-profit. We worry about budgets, business applications, operating a data center, beating the competition (yes, even in government), and worrying about how to adapt the latest consumer fad technology (Kindle, Android phone, iPad) for use by our workforce.
But there’s also a significant difference – CIOs in governments work for elected officials, and those elected officials get a report card at least every four years. A report card from the voters. If they’ve been doing a decent job delivering service, responding to constituent needs, and clearing the snow (alas poor Mayor Bloomberg), they’ll probably be re-elected. If not, a new politician wins the election and becomes Mayor (or Governor or County Executive).
Just as in the Federal government, a change in the Chief Executive will often result in a change in the Cabinet – the department directors – including the CIO. And much of that is happening this month, with the departure of good technology leaders such as Bryan Sivak in the District of Columbia and Gopal Khanna in Minnesota as well as a large group of others.
But to some extent, we government CIOs also help choose our elected Chief Executive. Clearly we’ve applied for the CIO job and gone through an interview process so we know to some extent the potential that the voters will toss out the boss. But also, in some cases, we’ve actively campaigned (on our own time, of course) and contributed financially to see a good politician win the election.
Government CIOs also have a legislative body of elected officials – a City Council, County Council or State Legislature – to help give us direction, set policy and review our budget. Sometimes balancing the wishes of the chief executive versus the legislature – just as in the President versus the Congress – can be a daunting task!
From a CIO’s perspective, what makes a good elected official?
I’ll sum it up succinctly: good elected officials see technology as an integral part of everything government does – as a way to enhance productivity of government workers and improve the delivery of service to constituents. Less enlightened elected officials see technology as a cost to be contained: “Why do we have so danged many cell phones?” or “We spend way too much money on these computers.”
Wise elected officials – from a technologist’s point of view – ask questions such as “do government employees have the tools they need to do their jobs (cell phones, computers, applications)”, “are we duplicating costs between departments or functions” or “what technology investments today give us the greatest return on investment and service to constituents tomorrow”? Sometimes even more specific questions such as “why don’t we allow employees to use their own smartphones, rather than having taxpayers buy them?” or “gee, why does every department have a different budgeting system” or “how come our police records management system doesn’t connect with our court case management system”?
Of course rarely are such questions asked in the heat of an election. Voters are much more concerned about filling potholes and crime on the streets. Amazingly, Seattle presently has a Mayor – Mike McGinn – who ran on a platform which included a significant technology: getting better broadband networks to homes and businesses.
And increasingly the “voter on the street” has become tech savvy. Gee, it seems like everyone – even the homeless – has a cell phone. And over 45.5 million of us have “smartphones”. And almost everyone uses the Internet - in Seattle, 88% of have a computer and 84% have an Internet connection. If you don’t have a computer at home, you can use one at the library or a community technology center.
The way we live is changing as well, as witnessed by the increasing amount of online commerce (thank you Amazon.com and Jeff Bezos) and social networking.
The time may be coming – soon – when voters are just as concerned about the usability of a government website from a mobile device, the ability to send video and photos to 311/911 centers, and being able to electronically find a parking space as they are with keeping the potholes filled.
Maybe the day will come when a politician promises a “computer on every desk, fiber broadband in every house and a smartphone in every pocket”.