Improving and reinventing technology isn't a choice for governments -- it's a necessity. That was the message from Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty, who addressed the opening session of the first full day of Governing's Managing Technology conference in Minneapolis. "We're in an era of continuous, nonstop improvement," Pawlenty said. "The issue of how we manage technology will be one of the key discussion points in the coming decades and the coming generation. And this isn't going to be a choice."

The expectations and the demands of younger generations of citizens are already shaping the way governments view and implement technology, Pawlenty said. "The notion that the generation behind us is going to accept government as it has been for the past several years is ridiculous. That's going to change in 20 years -- or we can lead and get out in front of it."

Pawlenty shared with the conferees some of the ways Minnesota is already employing technology to better serve its citizens. The state is working to expand an e-licensing program, so that eventually workers in every state-licensed industry can receive their certifications via the Internet. Minnesota also is pushing to consolidate its data servers -- currently consisting of over 3,300 servers in 36 centers spread throughout the state -- into one or two highly efficient data centers. "It's a no-brainer," Pawlenty said. "But it hadn't been done, and it needs to be done."

The governor also detailed the state's efforts in the areas of online personal health portfolios, e-prescriptions and state performance reporting.

But the bulk of his discussion centered on education, and the potential of technology to revolutionize how students learn. "Online learning is going to be one of the most revolutionary transitions our government is going to see in our lifetime. Do you really think the bulk of education in the future is going to be a sometimes-talented, sometimes-not associate professor, standing in front of a room full of students, lecturing at a whiteboard?"

Distance-learning, he said, is the future of education -- whether it be for nontraditional adult students completing a degree, traditional students supplementing their education with online courses, or even using technology in and out of the classroom to help tailor the educational experience of K-12 students. Pawlenty has already mandated that facilities in the state college and university system must offer 25 percent of their credits online by 2015. "It's exploding. It's going to completely transform higher education."