Technology tips for tough times
Efficiency is the key to survival, especially when budgets are slashed, department staffs cut and more residents have greater needs for public service. And, often that efficiency is driven through technology that automates tasks, supports workers in the field, improves communication and saves energy.
Local government CIOs have been making strategic decisions over the past year to save money while improving public service, maintaining the technology other departments rely on, and introducing new technologies that represent lasting changes for government operations. The following CIOs offer a few examples of the innovations in local governments that are helping communities adjust to trying times and thrive in the future.
Skip to a specific CIO
- Cincinnati CIO Margo Springs
- Corpus Christi, Texas, CIO Michael Armstrong
- Raleigh, N.C., CIO Gail Roper
Cincinnati CIO Margo Springs
Cincinnati has taken a team/partnership approach to manage the “Stormy C’s of Change” through tough economic times. Collaboration, cooperation and communication are the framework for forging partnerships and relationships that encourage resource sharing that ultimately results in hard savings and efficiencies benefitting the community.
By leveraging corporate relationships with Dell, the Uptown Development Corp. and employee talent, Cincinnati developed City Manager Milton Dohoney’s idea to create an IT Village Youth Lab to help its area youth enhance technology literacy and IT business skills. The lab gave students free computers, printers and peripherals throughout the year along with IT professional mentoring for neighborhood youth. The program received the 2009 Technology Solutions Award for Telecom and IT from the Public Technology Institute.
The department also hosted an IT Summit for residents and clients that focused on next generation technology and exposed the diverse audience to the latest technology and social networking tools.
The changing world of technology has created an environment in which devices have become more powerful yet smaller, which allowed the department to consolidate data centers and for clients to share resources within the center. The new data center is only 30 percent of the size of the former area, which meant an estimated $700,000 in annual efficiency savings going from 7,000 square feet down to 2,000 square feet.
Cincinnati is in the early stages of implementing a new IT model based on a shared services concept, dismantling a fragmented business model that has been in place for nearly three decades. Governance, standardization, vendor management and asset management will all contribute to efficient IT spending throughout the organization.
In a collaborative effort with the Police Department, the IT department is implementing ongoing support for a citywide community public safety camera system to reduce crime. That is being paired with video conferencing for personnel at the Emergency Operations Center to communicate with residents and constituents.
To promote civic involvement and outreach, the E-Gov team has moved from an open source search solution that was not meeting our needs to Google’s free custom search service. The E-Gov team displays for public viewing on-demand videos of city council meetings, mayoral press conferences, state of the city addresses, informational videos and more. A new enhanced Web site has been developed to provide information about the economic growth in the city along with a Small Business Enterprise (SBE) Web site designed to quickly provide information to businesses.
As professional practitioners, it is not only essential for us to be a part of the process that builds, recruits and develops young IT talent, we also must continue to think of innovative and creative solutions that are forward thinking to stimulate business, partnerships and creative growth during tough economic conditions.
QUICK BITS: Cincinnati
Department: Regional Computer Center
Jurisdictions served/population: Cincinnati, 332,458; Hamilton County, 842,369
Number of employees in the department: 114
Functions: Desktop support, system development, enterprise functions (financial system, HR system, email system, EGov), telephone systems, fiber network, 800 MHz public safety radio system, UHF/VHF non-safety radio system, maintenance of Metropolitan Area Network, information security, data center, countywide crime information system, county jail management information system, countywide geographical information system, customer service request system
Operating budget 2009 vs. 2010 (est.): $27,638,430 vs. $25,249,450
Significant projects planned for 2010: Consolidate IT help desks and servers, shared services model implementation, email archiving, virtualization, 800MHz
Corpus Christi, Texas, CIO Michael Armstrong
To manage through the current economic problems, Armstrong has exercised the following techniques and recommends:
Get more for your money. This is a great time to buy if you have any available funding at all. We have seen vendors drop prices and add features just to make a sale. We have seen reductions of as much as 50 percent on some contracts.
Lease, don’t buy. We lease all of our hardware. While we pay a bit more over a five-year lease, price reductions make this an attractive option. Leasing also acts as a multiplier, allowing us to obtain more equipment for a smaller annual outlay than an outright purchase. It also forces regular equipment refresh, lowering maintenance costs.
Understand your costs and the market. We had maxed out our storage area network (SAN) space more than a year ago. Analyzing our maintenance costs and surveying the market led us to realize that we could acquire a new SAN with quadruple the available space for less than we were spending for maintenance on our existing unit. We acquired the new SAN, installation, and all hardware and software maintenance for five years for $125,000 less per year than our current maintenance costs. No capital outlay.
Shock the vendor. Vendors with whom you have a long-term relationship may become complacent and forget that your business should be continually earned. Letting that vendor know that you are talking to competitors can be a wake-up call. We did this with our PC supplier and ended up with better pricing that will save us approximately $250,000 over the life of our new contract.
Move it out. We recently moved a number of our business critical applications to a hosted environment. We will save more than $100,000 annually in maintenance and management costs. We will move non-standard equipment out of our environment and a number of large items out of our data center, reducing heating and cooling costs. We planned this move for almost a year and were very careful about what we moved and where to. There is some risk to this strategy.
Look for newbies. We recently had a new telecommunications provider move into our market who successfully bid against our incumbent for most of our telephone services. We moved from a 30 Mb to a 100 Mb Internet pipe for approximately 50 percent of our previous cost. We have developed a close relationship with the new firm and are pleased that we helped bring new jobs to the local economy.
Leverage previous innovation. Corpus Christi is completely a VoIP shop. When 12 police lieutenants without cell phones needed a method to contact residents and each other, MIS public safety staff installed “soft phones” in the police vehicles using existing mobile data terminals and a USB headset. We used our own call managers to assign numbers to the soft phones, and the lieutenants can now use the devices to place phone calls over the city’s WiFi network or mobile data networks. Total cost per unit is approximately $50 with no ongoing costs.
Tie training to certifications. Travel and training budgets are generally early targets for cost reduction, and we have seen those reductions here. However, travel is still permitted for training related to acquiring or maintaining certifications. Our technical staff has a career ladder that requires both experience and education for advancement. Many of our training activities lead to certifications, and that funding has not been reduced.
These are a few of the things that we have been doing so far. However, we are getting bad news in some of our revenue projections and it’s likely that we will be looking at more extreme measures in the near future.
QUICK BITS: Corpus Christi, Texas
Department: Municipal Information Systems
Jurisdiction served/population: Corpus Christi, 282,000
Functions served: Call center, service desk, network, data center, support for enterprise software applications
Significant projects in 2009: Reduced power and cooling load in the data center, implemented a new backup and recovery system to protect data, server virtualization, replaced the police telephone system, added 19 free public wireless Internet zones
Projects planned for 2010: Evaluate open source applications, look for opportunities to move systems to hosted environments and opportunities to establish interagency agreements for shared costs and use of systems, deployment of an open source document management system, engage the operating departments in establishing the city’s technology direction for the immediate future.
Raleigh, N.C., CIO Gail Roper
Technology has the ability to deliver relevant, meaningful and personalized resources when and where they are needed. This year, through strategic partnerships, Raleigh’s Information Technology Department is delivering two projects aimed specifically at connecting Raleigh to those resources.
The first project focuses on helping people in low-income areas overcome barriers to broadband use, such as accessibility, affordability and adoption. The Information Technology Department is working with One Economy, AT&T, the Raleigh Housing Authority and the city’s Community Services Department to bring free broadband Internet access to families in the communities of Chavis Heights and Heritage Park in Southeast Raleigh.
U.S. Census data indicates that in the communities:
- 43.6 percent are below the poverty line. The national average is 12.4 percent.
- 58.4 percent graduated high school. The national average is 80.4 percent.
- 13 percent received bachelor’s degrees. The national average is 24 percent.
AT&T is providing the free service for three years, so the 168 units at Chavis Heights and the 122 units at Heritage Park can connect to broadband Internet. In addition to Internet access, the program will provide access to low-cost computers, customized resident training programs, a community-focused Web site and their own “Digital Connectors.” Digital Connectors are young residents between the ages of 14 and 21 in Chavis Heights and the surrounding area who will receive training focused on leadership, financial literacy and technology. In turn, the Digital Connectors will teach their adult neighbors how to access and take advantage of the Internet. The Digital Connectors are a key resource for providing technology training in the underserved communities.
City staff and AmeriCorps Volunteers in Service to America (VISTA) members surveyed Chavis Heights residents to determine their familiarity with computers and the Internet. Survey results are being used to design training and hands-on computer labs for residents.
On Oct. 17, the Chavis Heights’ Fall Fest provided an opportunity for residents to learn more about the program. U.S. Rep. David Price of the 4th District, U.S. Rep. Brad Miller of the 13th District, Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, AT&T North Carolina President Cynthia Marshall and other area leaders were on hand to celebrate the milestone with the residents. Providing this kind of access improves the quality of education, helps identify social service resources and eventually promotes workforce development.
The other project aimed at connecting people to resources is providing free wireless access in the most commonly used outdoor public spaces in downtown Raleigh. That is a collaborative project between Raleigh, the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, WindChannel and Cisco.
The wireless access was available for the Raleigh Wide Open celebration on Oct. 24. Vendors appreciated the convenience of processing credit card purchases immediately from their booths during the celebration.
QUICK BITS: Raleigh, N.C.
Department: Information Technology
Jurisdiction served/population: Raleigh, 388,926
Number of employees in department: 74
Functions served: network and infrastructure, business applications, technology strategy and planning, shared services
Budget: FY10 budget is $15.69 million; The City Manager has instructed departments to deliver FY11 budget requests without increases.
Significant projects in 2009 and/or planned for 2010: Downtown WiFi, One Economy Broadband Partnership, PeopleSoft human capital management and financials, customer care and billing, new Web portal