CIO Profile

Michael Armstrong, Des Moines, Iowa

by / April 22, 2003
Michael Armstrong's position as CIO of Des Moines, Iowa, is a far cry from his first gig out of college as a rock and roll concert producer in Kentucky. After going to work for the city of Lexington and finding success with networks and fiber, which included fashioning networks from duct tape and coax cable, Armstrong moved to Des Moines where he's been CIO since 1997.

What was the atmosphere when you arrived in Des Moines?
Pretty grim. Something you don't see too often is an opportunity to start over. Things were in [such] a state that, no matter what we did, it was going to help, which is an advantage. It gave us a chance to do some fundamental things without having to worry about incorporating a lot of legacy technologies into where we wanted to go. We were able to start with a plan and build it the way we thought it ought to be.

How do you set goals?
We spend a lot of time as an organization, particularly the managers, in talking about where the organization is going to go. A lot of what we do is based on where we've already been. We've got some fairly well-established directions, and some of the initiatives we choose to do fit into that direction at any given time in any given budget cycle.

Would you discuss some of your current initiatives?
We're getting ready to get into VoIP [voice over IP]. We've been watching that for about three years. We know we have a very extensive fiber network that goes to all the facilities we have. We wanted to leverage that. We also didn't want to incur the expense of buying another analog PBX [private branch exchange] in a couple of years. The technology seems to be in place now and it fits into what our goals and standards are, so this is the time to jump into that.

GIS has been an emphasis for us for a number of years. As we go through, there are different parts of that system that we want to improve. The thing that we're looking at coming up in the next budget year is improving our structures layer. That, of course, is related a lot to homeland security and being able to provide good information to first responders. We're talking about building footprints. Our system is pretty strong up to the ground level, but urban geography needs to be vertical. We need elevations in all our buildings -- how many floors there are, where the utility shut-offs are, escape routes, hazardous material storage -- and just being able to bring that information into a map-based system that our police and fire can use, as well as other people who may be involved.

IT has economic development implications so it's going to be an important piece for us. IT's just going to make us stronger.

Describle your relationship with the state.
We're developing a number of partnerships at the technical level with the state. States and cities and counties have all these convoluted relationships in a number of areas. We've done a couple of things that are unique. When we redid our Web site about a year ago, we contracted with the state IT department to do the design. We're using their electronic payments engine. They're hosting some applications for us. They are handling our Web streaming and video archiving. So it gave us access to some very qualified Web development people without having to increase our staff or buy a lot of infrastructure. We're talking with the Department of Transportation about the possibility of putting traffic cameras through a piece of interstate that goes right through the middle of town and through several jurisdictions. It's possible that we may end up managing that system and distributing the video wherever it needs to go. We like partnerships. The days of being able to go it alone, particularly for an organization our size, are long gone. We want to do what we're good at and leverage the talent that's around us.

What are you most proud of?
Just building something very solid and useful. The fact that I don't recall ever having said, "No, we can't do that."