Elizabeth Daigneau is GOVERNING's managing editor.E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
This year's Recognition Awards from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers focus on turning technology into an effective management tool. The eight award winners--from four states-- were honored for adaptations that led to substantial cost savings and revenue growth.
Taxpayer Assistance and Collection Center
It took only nine months for North Carolina's Department of Revenue and its Office of Information Technology Services to declare its new call center a success. Born of necessity in 2001--the state learned that $377 million in tax accounts remained unpaid--the Taxpayer Assistance and Collection Center hauled in $24 million more in taxes in those first months than was usually collected in that time period. Moreover, when customers called in, they didn't have to wait long on hold. Where the collection agency was once able to answer only about 25 percent of the calls it received from taxpayers, the new hub picked up 90 percent of the calls.
TACC uses standard call center technology, with the Office of Information Technology Services providing IT technical and support personnel to house and staff the center. By doing that, TACC laid the foundation for a service that is now available to all state agencies. As for DOR and its bottom line: TACC has collected more than $1.2 billion in back taxes since 2001.
Motor Fuel Automation System
Michigan's Department of Treasury needed to improve the way it received, validated, recorded and tracked motor fuel tax payments. Internal studies indicated that upgrading its tax filing process would provide the state with a boost in fuel tax revenues--to say nothing of making it easier for the state's motor fuel filers to pay the tax. So in 2003, the department turned to a Web-based system that in its first year produced an increase in revenue of more than $23 million.
The Motor Fuel Automation Project puts the motor fuel filing system into a Web-based program where taxpayers can file and pay electronically. "The system has allowed the Department to track all of the motor fuel transactions and notify taxpayers of any discrepancies," says Terry Stanton, public information officer for the Department of Treasury. The system has streamlined filing, improved timeliness for tax processing, enriched the quality of tax data, created consistent application of audit rules and upgraded customer service. Using commercial off-the-shelf software, the project is overseen by the treasury and information technology departments.
From monitoring traffic via cameras to coordinating traffic signals, the CommuterLink program run by Utah's transportation department helps keep interstate traffic moving along. It also keeps the roads clear of accidents by warning motorists of potential hazards and helping those in need of assistance. Since 1999, the high-tech traffic management network has played a role in making driving safer in Utah. According to a cost-benefit assessment by the University of Utah, the system helps prevent 950 accidents a year.
The regional traffic operations center uses 600 miles of fiber-optic cable, 266 closed-circuit TV cameras, 852 coordinated traffic signals, 64 electronic road signs and 11 advisory radio stations to keep traffic flowing. It also boasts a Web site (http://commuterlink.utah.gov), a 511 travel information line and an e-mail/pager alert system to provide travel information to citizens.
Its success--first demonstrated during the 2002 Winter Olympics when tens of thousands of people descended on the state--is the result of a partnership between state agencies, cities and counties. The partnership's efforts have also improved the ability to address homeland security requirements. UDOT estimates that CommuterLink translates into annual cost savings of $176 million.
Talent Bank Labor Exchange Information System
Every month, Michigan employers run some 80,000 resume searches on the state's Internet-based Talent Bank, and job seekers conduct nearly 1 million job searches. Designed to reduce unemployment, lower recruitment costs for Michigan business and encourage economic growth by connecting job seekers with job opportunities, the Talent Bank, which started in 1998, is similar to Monster.com and CareerBuilder.com.
As one of the largest public resume systems in the nation, it costs $1 million a year to run. The service is free to users. According to recent surveys, nearly 50 percent of Michigan employers have used the database to locate and hire employees. The percentage of job seekers finding positions rose from 12 percent under the pre-exchange system to 54 percent under the current system.
The service promises long-term savings to the state of $10 million a year in cost avoidance--about 150 fewer staff are needed to provide job-matching services, according to the Department of Information Technology and the Department of Labor and Economic Growth.
Statewide Technical Architecture
North Carolina's state legislature took action in 1992 to reengineer the state's entire computer infrastructure, mandating that legacy applications be downsized to more flexible and economical platforms that could meet evolving business needs. Out of that legislation was born the Statewide Technical Architecture that today provides IT oversight for all business projects.
In development since 1998, the architecture is a set of technical standards that act to guide IT projects, to make sure they align and allow for adaptability to changes in technology and business. "It's a set of best practices that have survived the test of time," says Michael Fenton, the state's chief technology officer at the Office of Information Technology Services. "We say it's 'evergreened' a structure under which fundamental goals are scalable and adaptable and there is commonality."
The architecture is now moving into what Fenton calls an "empowerment phase." His office is asking state agencies to rewrite the technical standards that govern business projects as opposed to his office rewriting the architecture.
Amber Alert 911 Web Portal
The AMBER Alert System has a long history. It began in 1996 when Dallas-Fort Worth broadcasters teamed with local police to develop an early alert system for child abductions. Other states and communities soon set up their own AMBER alerts.
So, too, the state of Washington. But after it adopted the system in 2002, the state grew frustrated with what it viewed as a slow and cumbersome response. So the Washington State Department of Information Services and the Washington State Patrol developed the AMBER Alert 911 Web Portal in 2004.
It allows local law enforcement to simultaneously distribute real- time information about an abducted child to thousands of sources including other law enforcement organizations, the media, the public, transportation officials, transit authorities, utility companies and many others. Through a simple sign-up process, thousands of people can receive information about abduction via pagers, cell phones and e-mail accounts.
Operational costs for the site (www.amberalert911.com) are funded by a consortium of private organizations--making the portal available to government, the media and the public at no cost.
Statewide Security Initiatives Program
Recent widely publicized security breaches in a number of states have encouraged governments to jump-start plans to provide better protection of their data.
North Carolina is one of the few states that are already in the process of implementing a security initiative. A 2004 government assessment of the state's information technology security scared state officials: The state had under-funded security for years. It needed to invest in stronger firewalls, statewide security policies, better security awareness and training, and improved risk management.
In response, the Department of Information Technology Services now has a pilot program for secured wireless networking, has also pulled together an information security policy manual and deployed firewalls and intrusion prevention systems as well as a statewide anti- virus/anti-spyware package. Savings won't be calculated in dollars but in reducing the human cost of downtime and improving public trust. "Having a statewide security strategy helps us do things cheaper, better and more consistently," says Ann Garrett, the state's chief security information officer at the Office of Information Technology Services.
Consolidated IT Services
A few years ago, Michigan began a sweeping effort to centralize and consolidate IT resources and functions from 19 state agencies into one department. Using a phased approach spanning four years and two administrations, organizations and functions were consolidated, strengthened or changed and a number of new functions, processes and organizational units were created. Today, the department, with its 1,700 employees, runs the state's 800 critical business applications and handles the desktops for 55,000 state employees.
Tailored to control IT spending, the consolidation effort has saved well over $115 million in the past year.
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