October 18, 2010 By Merrill Douglas
Local governments could one day find a wealth of low-cost IT solutions at their fingertips, thanks to the efforts of an informal group of big-city CIOs.
These IT leaders have dubbed themselves the Gang of Seven or Group of Seven, depending on who you ask. (Either way, it’s G7 for short.) They adopted the name when they started getting together last year to share ideas and collaborate on IT projects.
The G7 includes: Hardik Bhatt, CIO of Chicago; Randi Levin, CTO of Los Angeles; Bill Oates, CIO of Boston; Carole Post, commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications in New York; Bill Schrier, CTO of Seattle; Bryan Sivak, CTO of the District of Columbia; and Chris Vein, CIO of San Francisco.
“It’s a consortium of like-minded leaders who are very open to seeking input and relying on the experiences of others to help guide us,” said Post, who became the newest member after taking New York City’s top IT spot in January.
It’s also a group of leaders who believe that since all local governments wrestle with similar problems, it’s time to stop developing technology solutions alone.
“We’re sick and tired of reinventing the wheel,” said Schrier. Whether the goal is a utility billing system, an e-government portal or a public safety radio network, every city and county goes through the same process from scratch to obtain what it needs, he said. “In most cases, if we had better information sharing, we wouldn’t have to do that.”
The G7 emerged from a network of relationships among its members, most of whom already talked often, and some of whom already had worked together on projects. The group gelled at about the same time San Francisco and the District of Columbia started to collaborate on an open application programming interface (API) for their 311 systems.
The goal of the two cities was to tie their nonemergency service request systems to popular social networking sites. With such a link in place, a resident could use Facebook or Twitter, for example, to report a broken sidewalk, rather than make a phone call or visit the city’s 311 website.
San Francisco had already connected its Lagan 311 system to Twitter. Washington, D.C., had created an API to help independent application developers link to its Motorola 311 system. Vein and Sivak started discussing how to create a more generic piece of middleware. “You need to figure out a way to sit on top of each one of those systems that’s agnostic to those systems, but is also agnostic to the social networking platforms that you’re using as an entry point,” Vein said.
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