Pushing the Rope: How States Can Drive IT Innovation


In this month's Governing Magazine, Tom Davies' column is about the surprisingly small amount of influence states have on IT even though their total spend is roughly equivalent to the spend by the Federal government. The Feds, of course, have a huge influence. Tom writes:

Since the first generation of computers, the federal government has played a critical role in shaping the evolution of the technology industry. It was the federal government that sponsored the original research and development during WWII that led to what is now the computer industry. It was the federal government that purchased the first generation of computers for civilian use to help carry out the census in 1951. And it was the federal government that financed the creation of the network that was the forerunner of the Internet. Even now, the federal government continues to pioneer new security and information search technologies.

The problem is that the $50 billion in IT spending done by the states and municipalities is much more fractured than that of the Federal government.

While fragmentation is a fact of life, it need not be an insurmountable barrier to acting in concert. Where state and local governments have been able to pool their purchasing, such as with volume purchases of commodity technology products on statewide buying schedules, it has served them well. But being heard in the marketplace is not just about getting the best possible price on a purchase. It's also about influencing what new products and services are brought to market. And it is here that acting with one voice would best serve the interests of state and local governments.

WSCA, the Western States Contracting Alliance, is an example of the kind of volume purchasing contracts that States have been able to put in place. To create the kind of influence in the market place that Tom wants, however, will require more than WSCA, it will require nothing more than inter-state interoperability frameworks (read enterprise architectures) much like the Europeans are doing.

Here's how it might work: if each state and large municipality in WSCA had a fairly comprehensive interoperability framework, and WSCA, or some other organization, coordinated meetings where states could agree on a WSCA interoperability framework and agree to live by it, then the organization could start to create their its own standards for situations not covered by industry wide standards and drive the market. Could work, but it would require someone like the Western Governor's Association to coordinate it and bring it to life.