CIOs perform high-tech juggling act
When Greg Larson arrived for his first day on the job as city manager in Milpitas, Calif., he had several goals in mind. One was to create the position of Chief Information Officer (CIO), a senior staff member to direct the city’s information technology, manage the information technology employees and serve at the executive management level.
The position of CIO is common in the private sector – it fits right at the top level of management in most companies, along with CEO, CFO or COO. Still, it was virtually unheard of in federal and local governments until the 1996 passage of the Information Technology Management Reform Act requiring every Cabinet-level agency to designate a CIO. “As has occurred in the private sector in the past 10 years, local governments see that technology and telecommunications are becoming as central to operations as human resources, budgets, etc.,” says Larson, who once served as CIO of Scottsdale, Ariz. “The issues are so complex, so fast-changing and so pervasive in how they affect the city, they need someone at the executive level to provide direction and decision-making. The CIO is not just a technical position but a strategic one.”
Because IT has infiltrated so many departments, including emergency management, telephone systems, financial management, records and human resources, it has become increasingly important for local governments to hire a CIO to oversee the technology. Finding the right person for the job, determining the exact responsibilities and establishing goals for IT in local government, however, present a new challenge to local officials since there are no set guidelines or models to follow.
Wanted: CIO Since the federal government mandated creation of the CIO position, many local governments have followed suit. Titles assigned to the position vary but include chief technology officer, director of technology or director of information systems.
As long as computers have held a regular spot on office desktops, there usually has been a systems manager to maintain them. However, the employee was likely relegated to the office basement and contacted only when someone had a computer problem. Today, IT encompasses multiple departments, and it has become necessary to elevate the IT supervisor to an executive position.
Typically, the CIO reports to the city manager, just as a police chief or finance director would. The CIO still manages the day-to-day information systems, but also may be responsible for the acquisition of new computers, hardware, software and programs; GIS services; marketing; Internet applications and web sites; billing and finance technology; staff management; and security. He or she also is likely to be responsible for developing a solution for the Year 2000 Millennium Bug.
Public sector CIOs also must work across many departments, including public safety, administration, education, economic development and transportation. Additionally, they must deal with budget approvals and other fiscal issues.
Beyond technology Larson wanted a CIO who could manage all of Milpitas’s technology needs, provide direction for the city and focus on business strategies. “[Cities] need someone with a love of technology who can also view it as a tool in the big picture,” he says. “It’s important to give the CIO some roles and responsibilities beyond technology.”
As a former CIO, Larson knew just what to look for in candidates. He conducted a nationwide search and hired Liza Lowery, who was assistant director/operations manager in the information services department of Hillsborough County, Fla. Lowery jumped at the chance to move to a higher management position in the Silicon Valley area, “where technology was born,” she says.
With seven years of IT experience, Lowery is accustomed to working within budgetary constraints. Overall, she says the city council has been supportive of her requests for additional dollars and supports her goals, which include establishing a plan for the Year 2000 changeover. “We are a little behind in Milpitas,” Lowery says.
First, Lowery plans to build an internal department; previously, the city outsourced many of its information systems projects. She also plans to upgrade all of the systems, including the financial management, permitting, GIS, and police and fire records, adding web-enabling functions to the permitting and GIS systems. The goals are costly but necessary, and “technology is at a place where it’s easier and cheaper to make these changes,” Lowery says.
Lowery says she is ready to revolutionize Milpitas to allow it to catch up with the rest of Silicon Valley. “There is a higher expectation that we will be more modernized than other places because Silicon Valley cities are moving quickly and have a lot of knowledge about technology. The citizens have a higher understanding as well,” she says.
Lowery has the distinction of being one of few women in CIO positions. “Technology is not a field women are typically drawn to,” she says. “Women are definitely a minority in management and in technology. I’ve had to push very hard to get this far.”
The future, however, may be different for CIOs. According to Judith Pinn Carlisle, a professor of information technology management at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, approximately 45 percent of the department’s students are women.
Private lessons Despite the progress made by the public sector, a private company may be one of the best learning environments for a CIO, according to Brian Anderson, CIO for Philadelphia. He spent his career with big-name companies such as General Electric and U.S. Healthcare and admits he was a little nervous about working for the city. “The city pay structure is not as good as [that in] private industry,” Anderson says.
In fact, he turned down the position when it was first offered to him in April 1997, but he later accepted it after meeting with city officials. “The mayor was fascinating,” he says. “Philadelphia had really taken an innovative approach [to technology].”
Anderson says his private-sector experience in managing complex systems, negotiating with software vendors and supervising a large staff (400 employees in 53 departments) has paid off for the city. “Most folks from within are not trained in dealing with these issues. They just react or fight back,” he says. Anderson recently negotiated a deal to consolidate the purchase of personal computers, saving the city about 40 percent in its costs. Saving money has become a major issue for Anderson. “I don’t have the resources that I used to,” he says. “I have to do more with less.”
Philadelphia recently established a fund for city departments to use on an as-needed basis, like a bank. Departments apply for a loan, then pay back the money through a budget cut or from a return on investment. The “bank” has given them more flexibility, Anderson says.
Philadelphia’s IT agenda includes implementing standardized security practices, incorporating new technology into the city’s business functions and preparing the computer mainframe to combat the Millennium Bug. Anderson also would like to provide more staff training and acquire more skilled personnel.
In addition to his 400 IT employees, Anderson has hired several consultants – a costly extra. “There’s a growing gap in our skills level, and it’s costing a lot of money to pay for consulting services,” he says.
Anderson has committed to the CIO position for two years and aims to keep the city’s IT systems running as well, if not better, than those of any private company. “I’m setting the bar a little higher, to employ the same type of services the private sector offers,” he says.
Public success After the Indianapolis/Marion County city council passed legislation in 1995 to create the CIO position, city officials found another private-sector alumnus, Jake Moelk, to take the job. Moelk, who previously had worked in sales, sales management and account management at large corporations such as IBM, has more management experience than technical knowledge, but that was really what the city wanted, according to Mayor Stephen Goldsmith.
“We wanted a knowledgeable person to provide coaching as departments experiment with new technology,” Goldsmith says. “I was eager to accelerate the application of new technology and coordinate among city and county agencies better.”
For Moelk, the job seemed “a good match for my capabilities. I’ve been given the ability to enforce the things that make a difference,” he says. “The technical [knowledge] is good for some people, but I don’t think it’s sufficient [for a CIO].”
Moelk has used his management skills to outsource the bulk of the information technology, from billing and collection to GIS. He has devoted much of his time to developing the city’s web site, which recently won an award from the Global Information Infrastructure Commission. (The Washington, D.C.-based group promotes development of information networks and services.)
Now Moelk is focusing on creating “electronic government,” which will allow residents to complete many tasks from home on the Internet. They can use the city web page (www.indygov.org) to apply for various permits, read zoning maps and city/county ordinances, locate voting stations, get fire safety tips and obtain information about the city’s public golf courses. Regarding the Internet activity, Moelk quotes one of Goldsmith’s favorite sayings: “We want people to get online, not in line.”
“Basically, we had a lot of people standing in line to do business. A lot of that could be done at home,” Goldsmith explains. “Our main goal has been to translate the technology for better customer service, and we want to be more productive in our day-to-day operations. I’d like to get to a paperless City Hall.”
Streamlining service Reducing paper also is a goal for Shannon Carter, director of information services for Arapahoe County, Colo., near Denver. Carter manages a staff of 56 employees and three IT divisions: applications, technical and network services, and computer operations.
“We’re definitely on the cutting edge of a number of things,” Carter says. He is streamlining the basic business functions within the county to eliminate the heavy loads of paperwork and to provide residents with better customer service. He also is investigating electronic commerce and developing a “virtual office” for building inspectors and other field workers, which would allow more flexibility. Ideally, the county would provide the field workers with laptop computers, allowing them to receive daily assignments from the Internet.
Carter has worked in the public sector for much of his career; he came to the county in the mid-1980s as technical and network director and was promoted to his current position after about a year. Carter has witnessed first-hand the changes in technology, from the worldwide popularity of the Internet to the current focus on Year 2000 systems compliance. Carter’s department currently is in the “fix-it phase” of a system upgrade. “We’re well on our way to compliance,” Carter says.
Getting on board The growth of information technology has spawned a new breed of executive, who “integrates and elevates technology,” according to Larson. The CIO position requires management skills, technical knowledge and the ability to work across multiple departments, all while juggling a budget. Year 2000 upgrades may dominate the executive’s to-do list, but ultimately the CIO must manage a large staff and even larger responsibilities.
Since it is still a new position in most municipalities, determining the exact job tasks may require some city officials to look to the private sector, where most large corporations have employed CIOs for many years. Private companies can serve as a model for IT activity, or even as a headhunter’s paradise when municipalities start the search for an IT director. Each city or county must establish a description for its CIO, be it coach, technical wizard, systems integrator or strategist.
The Millennium Bug’s bite will not be particularly nasty, as far as local governments are concerned. At least, that is what 55 percent of respondents to a nationwide survey believe. The survey, “Technology In Local Government,” was conducted last fall by the International City/County Management Association and Public Technology, Inc., both based in Washington, D.C.
On the other hand, if the looming Year 2000 problem were to blossom into a major catastrophe, many local governments might be caught off guard. According to the survey, fully 71 percent of respondents have no long-range information technology (IT) plans, and 66 percent have budgeted less than $50,000 for IT expenditures this year.
The survey also indicates that: * 87 percent of respondents use wireless services, including mobile radios and cellular phones; * 55 percent use fiber optics; and * 34 percent use satellite imagery/ data in local government operations.
Thirty-nine percent of responding cities reported having web pages that they use primarily to disseminate information and educate citizens. Of the jurisdictions without home pages, 64 percent indicated that they plan to create them within the next year.
More than 70 percent of respondents reported that they have access to e-mail. In offices with Internet access and e-mail, department heads and city managers/chief administrative officers were reported to be the most frequent users.
The survey, which was mailed to nearly 7,400 cities with populations greater than 2,500, drew responses from more than 3,600 cities. For more information, contact Lisa Huffman at ICMA, (202) 962-3584; or Dale Bowen at PTI, (202)626-2456.
Historically, information technology has been used in local government by only a few trained employees. Now, in an effort to provide better service to citizens and reduce labor costs, cities and counties have invested more heavily in IT systems. “A driving force for IT deployment is the push to improve response to citizen requests by enabling government employees to rapidly and easily access important information,” says Al Ruot, GIS administrator for the city of Indianapolis.
Indianapolis and Marion County are transforming an 8-year-old ESRI-based GIS into a spatial information system to be used by 1,500 city/county users, as well as by countless citizens. Working with Convergent Group, an Englewood, Colo.-based information technology company, the city and county have developed a client server system that features easy-to-use desktop applications.
The basic browser interface allows users to access the information right from the desktop, regardless of where it physically resides. “Historically, we were only using 10 percent of the system’s potential,” Ruot says. “Today, we’re getting GIS onto the desktops of the people whose jobs it will make much easier.”
An hour or less of training is required to become proficient with the system. City and county personnel can now view, query and report on more than 60 types of spatial information. For example, when the city needs to notify landowners within 300 feet of a land parcel where storm sewer maintenance is scheduled, the user simply selects the parcel and the radius of the search, and the system locates all associated landowners. It also can automatically create notification letters.
The browser enables personnel to handle everything from complaints about missing stop signs to plugged drainage systems more efficiently. The GIS is integrated with the city’s infrastructure management software to track assets, log complaints and schedule work orders, improving response time and reducing the amount of time spent on field inspections.
One year into its transformation, the re-engineered system already is on the desktops of 150 city/county employees, and full deployment is expected within the next two to three years. Eventually, the applications will be accessed by citizens via kiosks located in libraries, schools or other public buildings, and even through Internet connections at home. “Long-term, we are striving to become an electronic town hall community where our citizens no longer have to travel downtown to get answers to their questions,” says Jake Moelk, chief information officer for Indianapolis/Marion County.
Writing a request for proposals is a daunting task, but a well-written RFP will protect an agency while also inviting qualified proposals that fit a certain budget. It may also make a difference between project success or failure. In fact, some experts estimate that as many as 40 percent of all failed GIS projects can be blamed on poorly written requests for proposals.
Unfortunately, when most GIS managers write an RFP, they ask a neighboring county or city office for help. The problem is that no two GIS projects are alike. Other managers may seek advice from vendors, but that can create a conflict of interest. Alternatively, some GIS managers hire consulting firms to write RFPs for them. That usually results in a well-written document, but it requires more time and money than many agencies can spend.
The truth is that most agencies do not need to hire a consultant or copy another organization’s RFP to create a successful GIS. They can write a winning RFP by paying attention to four key elements:
1. Knowledge of GIS technology. It is important to know what technology is needed for the project when the RFP is issued. Vendors are not always reliable sources for determining what technology to use.
Recently, a mid-size city issued a vaguely worded RFP with few technical specifications. Only three of 10 vendors bothered to respond. Their proposals contained very different work plans, and the costs ranged from $12,000 to $65,000. Ultimately, the city reissued the RFP and restarted the process, adding another six months to its time frame.
In learning about GIS technology, the most important things to consider are: * which data conversion technique (if any) will work with the data; * which GIS software can handle the applications; and * which database system meets the applications development needs of the entire organization.
2. Questions for the vendors: * Can the vendor provide successful examples of its proposed approach? * Does the vendor already have the necessary resources to work on the project? * What does the quoted price include? * What is the vendor policy if it underbids the project? * Are client references available? * What is the quality control process?
3. Staying within budget. Balancing the available budget with the technical specifications of the project presents a challenge. Often small government agencies issue RFPs with well-developed specifications but no concept of the costs involved. If they list a ridiculously low budget, they usually receive no responses to the RFP.
At least one software package, RFP Expert (www.rfpexpert.com) from GIS Software Tools, Aurora, Colo., is available to help GIS managers determine the cost of their projects based on technical specifications. The software walks users through the RFP production process with a series of questions and prompts.
Based on responses, the software develops a list of vendor requirements and technical specifications and keeps a running estimate of total project costs. Users can repeatedly change any or all specifications to determine their financial impact.
4. Locating the right vendors. It is important to get the RFP into the hands of vendors that specialize in GIS. Vendors can be found through an independent GIS vendor directory or through the RFP software, which also contains a database of GIS service companies cross-referenced by expertise. Writing a winning RFP is the only way to guarantee a successful GIS project. Learning about technology, following a budget and interviewing vendors ensures that the RFP writer has the necessary information before the request is even publicized.
This article was written by Nirav Shah, president of EI Technologies, LLC, Aurora, Colo. He may be contacted for a free GIS guide at (303) 750-8084 or by e-mail at [email protected]
Increased traffic at the San Francisco International Airport has prompted a $2.5 billion expansion and upgrade of the world’s seventh-busiest airport. Approximately 40 million people pass through the airport each year, and the city has noted a marked increase in the number of international travelers.
As a result, the San Francisco airport commission is constructing a 2.5 million-square-foot international terminal with 25 gates; a $450 million addition to the Airport Rapid Transit System (ART); and a new connection to the Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART).
The airport commission has employed the use of several CAD and 3-D technology programs from San Rafael, Calif.-based Autodesk to aid in the expansion project, which encompasses 120 outside contractors, 60 internal architects and engineers, and approximately 200,000 different drawings of the plans. To coordinate the large number of persons involved and to complete the primary construction by summer 2000, several time-saving design products and management systems have been put to work.
New software allows the designers to work with large files and review multiple designs at the same time, highlighting different elements in each. One drawing can highlight all structural walls while another can highlight all glass in the area.
Past programs required 10-15 minutes to open a drawing; now the turnaround time is 1-1.5 minutes, giving designers more functional hours in the day. “That’s the real savings – making changes quickly and effectively,” Principal Engineer Ernie Eavis says. “You can make a new design in literally minutes.”
Airport System Analyst Willis Kuo says the airport commission has devoted considerable time to training users on the new technology, which changes nearly every quarter. “Training is a continuous process because there are new users, and we’re constantly improving the process,” Kuo says. “Training cuts into the [overall] timing somewhat, but, in the long run, it actually speeds up the construction process.”
The airport commission also is using the company’s MapGuide technology, which allows users to share and coordinate information on an Intranet system. The Intranet site includes current photographs of the construction and 3-D models of the structures, as well as standards for each aspect of the design. The 3-D programs incorporate animation, modeling and rendering techniques to allow users to move within the structure during the design phase.
Everyone from senior management to department engineers and consultants can access the most recent updates. “The technology has allowed us to share information between different consultants working on the master plan,” Eavis says. “Instead of going into a records library, a lot of the information is right at [the users’] fingertips.”
Having the technology available for the new construction will save headaches in the future. Since the airport was built in 1927, many of the original records have been lost or are unavailable; however, specifications for the new buildings are being stored in the database.
Posting information in a digital format has saved the engineers a lot of time and effort, according to Kuo. “Having a unified technology dramatically improved the design process and construction process,” Kuo says. “Now we all speak the same language and use the same tools.”
By implementing customized software, Flower Mound, Texas, is making great strides in streamlining its municipal court system. Only four years ago, the town’s court was staffed by a court administrator and one deputy clerk, who processed thousands of cases a year using a single personal computer. The staff now processes 97 percent of its court-related paperwork on a monthly basis by using technology that includes production of warrants with photographs and a 24-hour, automated voice system.
Flower Mound wanted a system that met the needs of its staff and customers, and Court Administrator Donna Shannon knew the town’s growth rate of 14 percent only meant higher stacks of paperwork in the future. Desperate to fight the volumes of unprocessed cases, Shannon contacted a computer software developer.
The software developer worked with the expanding town to improve the existing computer system and to create customized software. “The goal was to produce a multi-user network that allows staff to assist more than one customer at a time and enables personnel to share information,” Shannon says. In September 1995, the Flower Mound Municipal Court became a beta site and completed the program test and implementation in two years.
The court staff provided direct input regarding screen formats. Displays were designed for different types of court documents – each in an effort to provide maximum results when queries were submitted.
Before the new software was added, the original system was not automated to issue reports or photographs. The DOS system could not run queries, it was limited to 50 characters per data field, and it could not offer an endless notes field. Staff members spent hours manually tabulating state reports, producing statistics and verifying daily cash balances. Today, Flower Mound’s Municipal Court can print docket sheets, courtesy letters and warrants; create failure-to-appear citations; and generate overdue citation reports. Without the new technology, the Flower Mound Municipal Court would be severely backlogged. “[With the new system], we produce more documents, more accurately,” Town Manager Van James says.