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Chapter 1. Understanding the State-Local Environment

Critical success factors for public sector information systems are no secret: top management support, clear purpose, committed stakeholders, and realistic cost and benefit measures are just a few that contribute to a successful system. These factors are well known, but not easily achieved, even in systems that lie inside the boundaries of a single organization.

Today’s public management environment is becoming ever more complex. The interdependent nature of most new programs means complexity beyond anything we have experienced in any one organization, no matter how large. This is a time of cultural change in which much responsibility for public services is being "devolved" from the federal government to the states; states are trying to avoid placing "unfunded mandates" on local governments; and local officials are trying to serve citizens at lower cost but with greater attention to customer service and convenience. Add to this the complexity of working across multiple organizations at more than one level of government. And add new computing and networking technologies that promise, but don’t guarantee, integrated customer-focused services. And remember that no single participant can afford to cover all the costs of this new way of doing business. Under these conditions, information systems that support public services are far more difficult to design, build, and operate.

This book was written to help state and local governments work more effectively in this challenging environment. It presents both principles and practices, based on documented experience, that can lead to successful state-local information systems. The material we present is drawn from a cooperative project sponsored by the New York State Governor’s Task Force on Information Resource Management to identify and promote the practices that lead to effective state-local systems. The project involved more than 150 state and local officials engaged in eleven such projects. The participants helped us document current issues, defined the characteristics of ideal systems, and, through surveys and interviews, shared with us their good and bad experiences. The result is the advice and examples which follow.