Strategic Concept 1: IT as reliable as electricity

Purpose:  Make information technology so pervasive you take it for granted

“Reliability is top of the list... People don't want to reboot their systems ever.”
 Bill Gates

Description: The idea of IT as a utility is a powerful one.  Think about the way you use electricity in your home.  When you turn on the microwave, lights, or television you don’t think about alternating currents, miles of power lines, and transformers.  You simply expect that you will be able to get electricity, in just about any amount you would ever need, and at the end of the month you pay the bill for the electricity that you use.  That’s reliability, it’s service provided with such expertise that it allows you to focus not on the transmission of that service, but on the task which that service facilitates.  In state IT parlance, it allows business decision-makers to focus on business operations with the expectations that their IT needs will be provided for by a professional IT organization.  For example, the Department of Motor Vehicle’s Information Modernization Project upgraded DMV’s core systems and processes by modernizing components of the existing Driver License, Vehicle Registration, and Occupational Licensing legacy systems applications and programs, transaction processing and database architecture.  These upgrades created a robust but nimble IT environment that made the implementation of business decisions quicker and less expensive.

Strategy 1:  Make IT more reliable for state customers

Strategy 2:  Make IT processes more efficient

Strategy 3:  Create secure transactions for our state customers

Strategy 4:  Meet a higher standard of service

Bottom Line:  These goals move the state toward the implementation of a grid computing model allowing statewide computing resources to operate in a seamless, redundant and reliable manner.  Individually, the goals address the critical areas of technology infrastructure, applications and systems, business processes, staff development, and IT performance management processes necessary to make IT as reliable as electricity.  By standardizing the way we build and operate IT services and by leveraging the dollars that would otherwise be spent on maintaining and refreshing our disparate architectures, we can dramatically improve the value and reliability of IT as an indispensible business tool in delivering the functions of state government. 

The essay that follows explores the idea of IT as reliable as electricity playing out in the future.

Requiem for the Digital Age Paul W. Taylor, Center for Digital Government
From the “IT Doesn’t Matter guy”

Nick Carr has written a meditation on loss – the loss of the old when confronted by the shock of the new, the loss of incumbents’ advantage when history shifts under them, the loss of control over data to third parties, and the loss of sovereignty by individuals, communities and even societies to institutions and other actors over which we have no control.

It may not be what you would expect from the “IT Doesn’t Matter guy,” a self-deprecating reference to the Harvard Business Review article that made him (in)famous a few years ago, or from a book with the seemingly optimistic title of The Big Switch: Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google. That said, Carr builds on his earlier arguments -- that information technology was necessary but did not confer competitive advantage -- by suggesting that organizations will inevitably abandon everything from data centers to PCs and almost all locally installed software in favor of cheap, utility-supplied computing.

In making the case for a big switch to utility computing, Carr draws heavily on a richly detailed analogy to electrical utilities that changed the way the world worked a century ago. Carr’s Thomas Friedman-esque historical review of the profound effect of cheap electricity on society is the heart of the first half of the book. The historical romp helps to set up the darker half of his thesis – no less a figure than Thomas Edison was wrong about how electrical utilities would develop and was unable to see the myriad uses to which electricity could be put if it was stable, reliable and economical.

He also tweaks Microsoft for being wrong (and late) in a chapter called Goodbye Mr. Gates, although companies such as Dell, Oracle and SAP get briefer but no kinder notices.

Carr points to and Google as exemplars of utility computing but also worries aloud that Google may be capable of evil, despite its founding premise, even if unwittingly. Such is the curious contradiction of the book that is never reconciled. Carr repeats the commonly accepted view of technological neutrality – “Technology is amoral, and inventions are routinely deployed in ways their creators neither intend nor sanction” – yet reveals a strong technological determinism when he warns, “It should come as no surprise, then, that most of the major advances in computing and networking … have been spurred not by a desire to liberate the masses but by the need for greater control on the part of commercial and governmental bureaucrats.”

There is a message for those of us who have been hopeful about the Internet: we’re wrong too. “It’s clear that two of the premises most dear to the Internet optimists – that the Web will create a more bountiful culture and that it will promote greater harmony and understanding – should be treated with skepticism. Cultural impoverishment and social fragmentation seem equally likely outcomes.” Carr’s dystopic homily fits with the spirit of this moment, characterized by moribund politics, uncertain economics and loss of national confidence. It would be too easy to say that the lessons of the book are that government should not build data centers and that its bureaucracies should not be trusted.

He concludes, “The full power and consequence of a new technology are unleashed only when those who have grown up with it become adults and begin to push their outdated parents to the margins. As the older generations die, they take with them their knowledge of what was lost when the new technology arrived, and only the sense of what was gained remains. It’s in this way that progress covers its tracks, perpetually refreshing the illusion that where we are is where we were meant to be.” Unfortunately, Carr’s sweeping narrative is less about redressing this loss, or resisting the forces that cause it than ultimately being resigned to it.

Go to Strategic Concept #2