Several group members are promoting a project idea that extends beyond application development, and beyond the G7 itself. It’s based on an initiative under way in the District of Columbia, which is another of the five locations chosen for the first round of Code for America projects.
D.C.’s Code for America project is really a “meta-project,” in Sivak’s words. The district hopes to spearhead an organization that will create and maintain a central repository for open source code and other artifacts, such as policies, legal frameworks and best practices. Any government could contribute items to this IT library or take items from it.
The Civic Stack
“The end goal is to create what we’re calling the ‘civic stack’ of software,” Sivak said. “At the end of the day, we should have everything in this organization, so a city could literally come in and say, ‘We’ll take the whole thing,’ and become a technology-enabled city.”
One way to get municipalities to collaborate on that large of scale would be to forge ties between the G7 and the Metropolitan Information Exchange (MIX), said Schrier. MIX is an organization of about 60 CIOs from large and medium-sized cities and counties. Schrier currently serves as its president.
“I’d like to be able to leverage the work that’s being done in these larger cities,” Schrier said, “connect it with work that’s being done in the medium-sized cities, and set up a framework where we could rapidly disseminate new open source applications that are invested by the various players.”
Schrier said he would like to see the G7 become part of MIX. But the desire to join a larger, more formal group isn’t unanimous. And members don’t seem ready to enlarge the G7 or give it more structure.
Several other city CIOs have expressed interest in joining the G7, and they certainly would add value, Vein said. But members decided early on that rapid expansion would make the group unwieldy. “We decided to keep our membership for the time being at seven, until we make sure that the model works and we refine how we work,” he said.
Oates agrees that it’s too early to expand. “Before we get too diffuse, and before the organization and requirements get too wide, I would love to see us actually go from a great-conversation, great-idea phase to ‘Look what we’re able to deliver,’ and ‘Look what we’re able to share with others.’”
Ultimately the group will get larger, Bhatt said. “That’s why I think one of the initial discussions we have as a Group of Seven is what kind of a structure do we want this to take?” The group should have enough structure to endure beyond the tenure of any of its members, he said.
At the same time, Bhatt said he’s leery of creating an organization formal enough to require bylaws and place heavy demands on members’ time. “We are more interested in, ‘Hey, you’ve got a solution — let’s work on that.’”
While G7 members have yet to agree on the details of their future course, the CIOs agree that their collaboration creates solid value in the present.
As budget cuts force IT departments to scale back on innovation, a group like G7 can pool resources to create a better mousetrap, Vein said. “You can do it cheaper, you can do it faster, and hopefully you can do it better.”
They Can Build, But Can They Buy?
The G7 is making plans to create and share municipal IT solutions, but what about procurement? Can IT departments in multiple cities, in different states, join forces to buy software from vendors?