According to my calculations, this is my 115th submission to Technology in Government. Unfortunately, this will also be the last issue of TIG as a standalone publication. Back in the winter of 1996, when I originally agreed to write “a couple of articles” to cover for a vacationing contributor, I never imagined that I would still be doing this more than 10 years later. During that decade, the publication has changed its parent company once, its editor three times and its style and format more times than I can remember. These changes seem almost inconsequential, however, when I look back at how much the IT world has changed for local governments.
In this short span of time we have seen the Internet grow from a technological novelty that struggled to justify its existence into the ubiquitous conduit for much of the world’s commercial activity that we enjoy today. We have seen the PDA evolve from a glorified “executive Gameboy” (Apple Newton) into interconnected, multi-function telecommunications devices such as the BlackBerry that threaten the very existence of desktop computers. Ten years ago we worried about how we were going to get high-speed wiring into everyone’s home and business. Local governments were considering community networks such as Free Net in order to ensure that our citizens didn’t get left out of the information age. Today, wireless technologies threaten to make wire obsolete and the Free Net concept is enjoying a rebirth in the form of free wireless hot-spot programs designed to attract people into our downtowns.
Local government IT departments have also faced a number of challenges. The most significant of these was the millennium dating issue presented by the calendar roll-over from 1999 to 2000. Many of us spent more than two years prior to Dec. 31, 1999 preparing for what was predicted to be a technological disaster of biblical proportions. In the end there was no disaster; the lights kept lighting, the toilets kept flushing and the planes kept flying. While most IT people hold the position that the happy ending was all due to careful preparation, it seems that we lost a little credibility with the rest of the world for promising a disaster and then failing to deliver.
IT roles changing
During these 10 years we have seen a significant change in the roles and functions of IT people in local government. In 1996 many local governments still had a manager of information systems. This made sense in the days before IT found its way into just about every office tool in existence. Today, all of the roles in the IT department have become broader and titles such as information architect describe us so much more accurately than programmer analyst. During the growth of the Internet and in the years leading up to Y2K, people with IT knowledge became quite a hot commodity. This was further exacerbated by the brain drain problem caused by the flow of IT people into U.S.-based free-trade jobs. Despite our predictions of impending doom, the problem has largely corrected itself as many expatriate IT specialists have since returned to our calmer Canadian political climate.
The IT industry has also experienced a revolution over the past 10 years. The last vestiges of mainframe era giants such as DEC and Data General all but disappeared during this time. HP bought out Compaq and IBM gave up making PCs altogether. Promising companies like Silicon Graphics came and went and Dell emerged from virtually nowhere to its current dominance of the computer hardware market. Apple, which had almost disappeared from the map by 1996, today seems poised for a rebirth as the primary challenger to the Microsoft/Windows empire.
It seems that not much has remained unchanged during the past decade of TIG, and that includes yours truly. In this time, I have completed a university degree and changed jobs (but not employers) twice. My kids have grown up and my outlook on the world bears little in common with the innocent technophile that wrote that first submission 115 issues ago.
In closing, I would like to thank the readers of TIG for supporting the publication and taking the time read my humble thoughts. I would also like to thank all those who offered feedback (both good and bad) through the years, for it is the comments of readers that helped to keep me typing for all those lonely nights.