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Technology Insights for Leaders in State & Local Government

Opinion II

Connectivity continues to grow -- with government among its most passionate practitioners.

posted October 31, 2006  |  Appears in the October/November 2006 issue of StateTech Magazine.

Creating The Experience – Living the Wireless Life
Many people crave the Starbucks experience of enjoying a cup of coffee while being wirelessly connected. Wireless technology is ubiquitous. Now it’s up to governments to apply wireless technology to unite diverse neighborhoods and create applications that benefit society.

There’s no denying it: Wireless is becoming ubiquitous. Today, many states and municipalities have already implemented wireless technology, while others are further expanding its use or planning rollouts in the near future.

The CDW•G Technology Investment Curve (TIC) testifies to the trend. (See “Ahead of the Wireless Curve ” on page 24.) Focusing on wireless adoption among state, county and city governments, the TIC survey is based on five years’ worth of CDW•G customer data. And the results indicate that most levels of government are just getting started in deploying this society-altering technology.

In fact, the continuing growth of public Wi-Fi illustrates much the same thing that certain private enterprises — a good example is the “wired” Starbucks chain of coffeehouses — have been demonstrating during the past several years: If you build it, they will come. It also illustrates the “everyman” nature of Wi-Fi: When and where it’s available, it’s available to everyone.

WI-FI MORE WIDESPREAD

As our TIC survey reminds us, in a burgeoning number of diverse geographic locations, you no longer have to visit a coffeehouse to get the Wi-Fi experience. It’s already available — or on the way — in the public arena: at Denver International Airport; in the Ohio cities of Dayton, Cincinnati and Cleveland; in Culver City, Calif., near the bustling LAX global air hub; and in almost the entire state of Rhode Island.

And this Wi-Fi experiential smorgasbord is continuing to spread. States and municipalities want to offer Wi-Fi to government staffs, EMS personnel and citizens as part of the experience of belonging to their communities. The idea is to provide wireless service in the office, at the sports venue, in the shopping area, downtown, and throughout housing projects and community centers.

It’s happening in cities large and small, and as geographically diverse as Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chaska, Minn., and St. Cloud, Fla. Each has the unique opportunity to bring its residents together in a way that was technologically impossible just a few years ago.

Reasons for the wireless implementations are as varied as the cities and states themselves. Encouraging higher foot traffic in neighborhoods, providing a better business climate, enhancing the overall image of city or state and bridging the digital divide all provide solid grounds for offering the service.

Other reasons are even more pragmatic: New Orleans, for example, plans to offer wireless Internet access to citizens in an effort to entice businesses and people to return to the city following last year’s devastating hurricane season.

WHAT’S NEXT FOR WI-FI?

Technology has never advanced without someone who was willing to take a risk. And the governments included in our survey are risk-takers on a mission that’s absolutely vital.

All of this gets me to thinking: What would happen if everyone in North America had easy access to the Internet? We don’t know yet — but we are getting closer to that reality.

That’s really why we conduct the TIC survey: It’s a measuring stick that helps tell us not how far the technology has advanced, but — perhaps more critically — how far-reaching it has become.

If technology can be applied so spectacularly to unite diverse neighborhoods in manners they never could have dreamed of before, can there be even greater technological applications that society has not yet considered? Can there be a nobler role for technology? A more worthy taxpayer investment?

These questions are open for discussion. But one thing that’s already settled is that Wi-Fi is a broadly applicable technology that can help improve people’s lives across the economic spectrum.

By publishing the results of the TIC survey and quantifying and locating the governments that are Wi-Fi front-runners, we hope to heartily encourage them to continue forging boldly ahead in their essential role as technology leaders.

Jim Shanks, a former CIO, is President of CDW Government Inc. and Executive Vice President of CDW.

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