CHARLESTON, W.VA. - States are being hit by the triple whammy of tighter budgets, demands for more services and the need for heightened security, leaving their network staffs to scramble for new ways of doing business.The mantra in Massachusetts - where the state is considering deficit borrowing - is save money, says Rich Glasberg, manager of data communications for the commonwealth. "Unless you can prove it can save money immediately, it can't happen," he says.How state network executives and telecom officials are pooling their experiences to come up with ways to balance budgets will be a central theme at this week's National Association of State Telecommunications Directors (NASTD) gathering. At its eastern regional meeting in West Virginia, members will swap advice on possible answers as ranging as renegotiating contracts to possible use of voice over IP, says Hale Irwin, NASTD president and Vermont's telecom chief. This gathering comes after a meeting last month of state CIOs that heard suggestions such as consolidating data centers to reduce unnecessary duplication.Irwin says Vermont's government telecom system is centralized, maximizing the state's clout with service providers because the governmentwide contract is a bigger plum. Shifting to this model could help in states where individual departments sign their own service provider contracts.Sound familiar?State governments are facing network challenges that major corporations face, such as tighter budgets and demands for more services and better security. Some of the answers they are considering:\u2022 Consolidate network resources across the entire state government to streamline operations.\u2022 Lump similar purchases of gear and services together to negotiate better deals with vendors and service providers.\u2022 Renegotiate contracts based on new economic realities.\u2022 Redistribute network gear to optimize network efficiency.\u2022 Review applications with an eye toward using fewer applications while still meeting core business needs."We have to look at can we take a bunch of pipes and make it one big pipe and benefit from economies of scale," Glasberg says.In West Virginia, the state looked at IP voice, thinking it could save on toll calls, but with long-distance rates of 4 cents per minute, the savings didn't pan out, says Carlos Neccuzi, NASTD's regional president. But letting the call centers for Health and Human Services share agents more easily justified the technology by making more efficient use of the agents, he says. If one of the state's regional offices is swamped, agents from other regions log on to accept calls from the overloaded region's IP call server, he says.Similarly in Vermont, the revenue department installed automatic call distribution (ACD) gear that led callers through prompts to determine what agent was best qualified to handle the call and then queuing the call for the appropriate person, Irwin says. This was done on the traditional voice network, but the ACD saved time for callers and made more efficient use of agents' time, saving the state money, he says."A lot of the problem in state government is it's made up of old systems that have been developed by different people at different times," says Rosemary Cochran, an analyst with Vertical Systems Group. States should look at the current crunch as an opportunity to streamline their networks and suppliers. "They should consolidate contractors and vendors and run it more - God forbid - like a business," she says.