Monday, October 12, 2009

To Do More With Less, Governments Go Digital

Via The New York Times


IN government, as in business, crisis can fuel creativity. These days, the pressure to rethink things is particularly intense for state and local governments, which have far less leeway than Washington to borrow in bad times.

“The economic pressures will force us to be more efficient and change how we deliver government services,” says Sonny Perdue, the governor of Georgia.

Mr. Perdue was one of more than 500 government officials, business executives and academics who attended a two-day conference in New York this month. Under the theme “Smarter Cities,” the meeting was sponsored by I.B.M. in partnership with the Brookings Institution, the City University of New York, the Urban Land Institute and other nonprofit groups.

That a giant technology company underwrote the gathering suggests that there is money to be made in helping governments tackle thorny problems in traffic management, energy use, public health, education and social services — and that technology has an important role to play.

Local governments, like many businesses, are struggling with a data glut. Agencies collect huge amounts of information about topics as diverse as building permits, potholes, Medicaid cases and foster-child placements. Technology, according to computer experts and government officials, can be a powerful tool to mine vast troves of government data for insights to streamline services and guide policy.

“The mistake people make is to think that collecting the data is the endgame,” said Michael R. Bloomberg, the mayor of New York. The real payoff, he said, takes another step. “We actually use the data,” he noted.

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