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Capitol Anxiety

Washington, the hub of public enterprise, is riding through an anxious period of change.
Offshoring is undoubtedly not an option for DHS or for agencies directly involved with the objectives that made the PATRIOT Act necessary. And beyond the obvious reasons, perhaps it shouldn't be: In some circles of the business community, outsourcing and offshoring have hit "magic bullet" status, which tends to hide the true complexities, costs, and risk exposure. Regulatory compliance, intellectual property, and human resources are just some issues that can turn into showstoppers. However, businesses are desperate to widen the productivity advantage of information systems — and free their chief architects and business analysts to pursue new technology solutions that will deliver competitive advantages in the marketplace. Current trends in business and computing make you wonder whether public enterprises may have to follow the private enterprise lead if they are to keep pace.

School of IT

At the CoSN event, I learned that CTOs of school districts are, like their private enterprise colleagues, trying to focus on strategic objectives and performance metrics (especially those supplied by the No Child Left Behind Act) and not on technology for technology's sake. "The accountability movement and the powerful data-gathering abilities of digital-age tools have combined to produce an information culture in which data management is key to strategic planning," stated a CoSN K-12 CTO Council survey report released at the event. (I would recommend CMP Media's Technology & Learning as an excellent source for more in-depth coverage.)

School district CTOs have to balance several objectives. First, they must apply technology so that the district can take advantage of the efficiencies of emerging Web-based business-to-business purchasing, sourcing, and other infrastructure services. Second, they must work with a variety of agencies, regulators, and other concerns to support the No Child Left Behind Act and other mandates. And finally, CTOs must "figure out ways to support and integrate the best uses of technology for teaching and learning while minimizing potential risks," the report says. "The overall goal must be to make life easier for the instructional community, not for the technology support staff."

For the majority of school districts, money is always in short supply and funding is inconsistent — if not a political football. And as one attendee noted, a school district can't move a plant overseas or make other tough decisions that private enterprises must to remain competitive. However, to meet all three objectives described in the previous paragraph, smart school districts are right to follow the emergence of Web services, open standards, and on-demand computing closely. Through "virtualization," school districts might expand beyond physical boundaries that can't change, to reach exciting new levels of excellence in delivering the educational experience, especially where the challenges are the toughest.

As in private enterprises, organizational and people processes will have to change; that's never easy. But as Intel CEO Craig Barrett and other business leaders have commented recently, high-quality education is essential to developing and keeping good jobs in local communities, and even attracting foreign businesses to "offshore" here in the United States.

David Stodder [[email protected]] is editorial director and editor-in-chief of Intelligent Enterprise.