FRAMINGHAM (03/03/2000) - Satish Ajmani is CIO of Santa Clara County-the heart of Silicon Valley. As such, he faces unusual challenges reconciling government responsibilities with citizens' and businesses' needs.
CIO: YOU ARE CIO TO A COUNTY THAT PEOPLE EQUATE WITH UNLIMITED MONEY AND TECHNOLOGY KNOWLEDGE. HOW DOES THAT AFFECT YOUR JOB?
Ajmani: Sixty-six percent of the households here are online. There are people like software engineers who are used to doing business electronically. But the service industry has a lot of lower-paying jobs; there's definitely a polarity.
There's a constituency that is not connected, so whatever we do electronically will have to meet those people's needs through kiosks, community-based organizations and people who can help them. We'll always have to maintain the counter system because some people will not do business electronically. They will want to come in and stand in line to pay their bills or fines.
CIO: HOW CAN GOVERNMENT BETTER SERVE CITIZENS THROUGH TECHNOLOGY?
Ajmani: Government can piggyback on [Joseph Pine's] idea of the "The Experience Economy," transforming a business transaction and making it an experience. Of course that's tough--both to do the thing and to sell the concept.
I'd like to build an electronic community. Part of that challenge is making [a community portal] persuasive enough to make people want to do business locally.
Government can't make them do that, but at least it can provide the opportunity. I'd like people to come to our website and get answers to whatever questions they might have about the labor market, businesses or local political issues. Property assessment, tax collection, buying a dog license, payment of parking fines, court schedules--all that could be done electronically. But I'd also like to have people use this to buy things locally. If you go to Yahoo and buy flowers, you are supporting a national business. I'd like to have citizens come to our website and support local businesses. It's the small businesses that are suffering [from the influx of technology]. In downtown San Jose many businesses have closed.
The biggest challenge, though, is how slowly things move. There are good reasons for it. Public accountability forces us to do things a certain way. For example, before we make any expenditure over $100,000, it has to be approved by the board of supervisors. Needless to say that slows down how fast you can move a project. And of course things of this nature don't sell as well as providing welfare. That's my particular challenge.
What benefits do you see to getting government online? Let Features Editor Meg Mitchell know at firstname.lastname@example.org.