Government vendors are promoting "smart" and government audiences are receiving the message with mixed feelings. Is smart a function of government? Can government be smart?If so, what's so smart about it?

Google "smart" and see what you get. It's very telling. After you get by all the branding, you'll find it defined when used as an adverb as"having or showing a quick-witted intelligence." Conversely, when used as a noun it can mean "cause a sharp, stinging pain." And there you have it. Combine the two and I think we can submit the combination to Wikipedia as a definition for smart government.

The reason we're all focusing on smart is because government has most, if not all, the information technology infrastructure, solutions, and services in place to deliver intelligently, but not without some pain. As analysts we see governments investing in all of the component parts that create an intelligent ecosystem.Yet, until there's a more deliberate strategy to pursue the capability to become intelligent at the enterprise level - whatever level that may be - the investments are marginally employed to carry out various operational functions and support micro-enterprises that are reflective of traditional government constitutional, organizational, and financial structures. While those structures are a definite inhibitor, the only way get to the elusive goal of every modern government - peak operational efficiency that delivers maximum service value - is to be smart in employing the available resources you have to achieve it.

I recently listened to U.S. Federal CIO Steve VanRoekel talk about his vision for the U.S. federal government. It's a vision that strikes at the heart of smart. Steve talked about the Office of Management & Budget's "Shared First" strategy and its vision of reducing redundancy (a good start) and optimizing investments. As he was discussing it, I kept thinking about the "pain" part of smart. I completely agree that it's the right approach, yet I was thinking about the inherent difficulties of operationalizing it. At the program and operational level it's a pretty big picture to put yourself in if all you stand to gain is potential loss of control and funding. Yet, the way Steve envisions it, the trade-offs are better ROI and service capability. In short, it's smart.

Get used to smart government. It's going to be a push through the pain to get to intelligent, but as most successful organizations will tell you, it's totally worth it in the end.