All good IT people who work in local government know it is the role of the IT professional to be a purveyor of business solutions and not technology. That said, it is very easy to fall into the trap of becoming a “”purveyor of technology.”” The technology enthusiasts in our organizations rarely come

running to us brimming with excitement about the latest “”solution”” to hit the computer magazines. It’s just the opposite; they are usually most motivated by the newest techno-toy to hit the market. Most happy and well-adjusted IT people appreciate technological gadgetry and generally respond positively to such enthusiasm.

One of the earliest such “”techno-toy must haves”” was introduced in 1983. This, for those who are too young to remember, was the year that the first Microsoft mouse was offered for MS-DOS PC systems. The “”green-eyed”” mouse, as it is now known, quickly became an executive status symbol despite the fact that it would be another five years before a version of Windows would be introduced that worked well enough to justify having a mouse on a business computer. In 1998 Microsoft caused history to repeat itself by introducing the “”Intellimouse,”” known more commonly as a “”wheel mouse.”” This was the first mouse to offer the scrolling wheel between the two buttons. Shortly after the first few of these found their way onto desktops, they became an almost mandatory business tool for all but the lowliest of computer users. We actually remember seeing one person prepare a two-page cost justification for replacing a perfectly serviceable mouse with a “”wheel mouse”” on the grounds that he would “”save time while scrolling through reports.””

In spite of our ability to remember history, we seem to be doomed to repeat it sometime in the near future with the techno-toy du jour: the flat panel LCD monitor. This has been around for a few years now, but until recently, we could fend off demand for such luxuries on the grounds that they were just too expensive. This problem has largely resolved itself, however, and a number of people we know have taken advantage of Dell’s cheap flat screen upgrade offer to get a flat panel at home. Now, as we all know, the dreaded “”but I have one at home”” retort is the ultimate trump to the “”they’re too expensive”” argument. It won’t be very long before we’ll be forced to cave in and buy flat panel screens for at least a few of the senior managers. Once this happens, however, the floodgates will open. The IT department will find itself inundated with a tide of perfectly good, but now unwanted, glass tube video monitors as our budget gets nibbled away on shiny new flat panels.

Meet in the middle

By this point some might accuse us of being old-fashioned or of keeping a hoard of paper-white VGA monitors in our garage in case they ever come back in style. But we’re not old- fashioned, just prudent with the public’s money. Such indulgences in the latest and greatest in technology are almost entirely unique to government IT operations. Just take a gander at the still functioning technology museum piece operating on the other side of the counter at your local video rental store, big-box retailer, doctor’s office or auto-repair shop. These organizations don’t spend a dime on technology until they have no other choice.

Reasonably, there is, however, some middle ground. As much as we miss our old IBM System/38 we really wouldn’t want it back. The problem with avoiding the “”technology purveyor”” trap in local government is that during the lean budget years, the money for business solutions has a tendency to become scarce. During these times, the “”techno-toys”” that we can buy from equipment replacement budgets are the only bait we can offer to keep awareness of technology at a reasonable level. The best we can hope for is to try to apply some business logic to the distribution of such toys. Installing flat panel monitors only on a failed equipment replacement basis is a good way to start. Another is to look for locations with some ergonomic argument such as at the desk of a GIS or desktop publishing user who suffers from eye fatigue.

Remember, though, that the longer you can stave this off, the less time you’ll be required to spend in tax-payer purgatory in your next life.

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