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On Tuesday, Martha Coakley, the current Massachusetts Attorney General and a college classmate of mine (Williams '75), won the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senator from Massachusetts. (For you trivia buffs, here's what she looked like--and I looked like--freshman year in college.) Given Massachusetts' strong Democratic leanings, she'll probably win the election in January, taking Ted Kennedy's place.
Her win reminded me of one of the most depressing conversations about IT I've ever had. I don't see Martha that often--maybe once every couple of years--but back around 2002 she called me up to give her advice on what to do about her IT department. At the time, Martha was Middlesex County DA, and she was trying to figure out what her options were for improving IT support for her office. She sent her car around--nice touch, I thought--and we spent an hour going over her current systems, what she was trying to do, and her budget.
While the specifics escape me now, I remember being horrified at (1) what she needed to do and (2) what she could do, given her budget. She had an IT department of one. He was doing yeoman's duty, but was seriously underpaid. It was just a disaster. I helped her with some terminology and gave her some good questions to ask--Martha would be the first to admit she's not high tech savvy--but I really couldn't help her that much. All the money was going to keep the current systems running, and there was no money left over for improving things. It was the classic case of being on a treadmill and not being able to get off.
If we had the same conversation today I think it would go a bit better. Some of the money that she had to spend for infrastructure could be re-routed to a SaaS service. Given the confidential nature of the work in a District Attorney office, I'm not sure everything could be SaaS-based, but perhaps a few things could be offloaded. Her big issue was helping her attorneys find and track information. Search technology has certainly improved, and the cost of collaboration software has gone down. For example, SharePoint is less expensive than some of the KM systems of the time.
So while we're all still struggling with how to use SaaS effectively and what IT's role should be in today's world--should it continue running the IT engine room or should it become more of a coordinator?--I think things aren't as bleak as they were back then. At the very least, there are more options. And that's a good thing.