March 1, 2004 By Government Technology
-- Blake Harris, contributing editor
Director of Information Technology
Kansas City, Mo.
Since 1996, when Gail Roper was recruited from Austin, Texas, to develop an IT infrastructure strategy for Kansas City, she has played a significant role in making that city one of the country's most technologically sophisticated municipalities.
Her accomplishments include overseeing deployment of a fiber-optic ring around Austin to provide high-speed connectivity to the school district, local government and the University of Texas.
"As CIO, it has been my job to make certain we are accomplishing what we set out to do and that it has value -- that it really has an impact on the organization, particularly as it relates to efficiency, productivity, [and] access for the citizens," she said.
To achieve this, Kansas City significantly changed the way it manages IT. "We have transformed ourselves into a consulting arm for the organization," Roper explained. "Now, as well as a team of technical people, we have as many business consultants and business analysts. We are now talking about things like return on investment, financial models and total cost of ownership for IT initiatives, both now and into the future."
As a government entity, Kansas City didn't have the option of wholesale firing and rehiring. So to transform the IT department, Roper developed strategies to reskill existing staff. "We really had to look at our human resources and human capital and decide how we were going to get those individuals reskilled to work on enterprise initiatives, doing the kind of business analysis that was needed. In essence, we took COBOL programmers and turned them into PeopleSoft support people."
Roper believes government's biggest challenge is accountability. This involves not simply proving ROI for technology, but also across the organization. "We need to take the lid off government, so our constituency understands what's going on within government in regard to services," she said. "In today's economy, we really have to prove value and improve service by doing more with less."
-- Blake Harris, contributing editor
Sen. Eliot Shapleigh sees technology not just as a good idea, but a force that can help solve some of this country's most pressing problems. By initiating, designing and passing several pieces of legislation in Texas, he played a pivotal role in achieving many state e-government initiatives, including TexasOnline, a leading state portal for online government services; the state's education portal; Texas' online high school curriculum; IT infrastructure enhancements; and a Technology Immersion Pilot Project, which champions wireless technology in classrooms.
He was one person behind a new requirement that procurement officials conduct ROI assessments to better determine the costs and benefits of Texas' IT purchases.
He's most proud of an initiative to put laptops into lending laboratories in elementary school libraries. "In El Paso, only one in 10 households have home computers," he said. "With this program, I believe we have solved the digital divide better than any other American community."
Shapleigh sees El Paso, the area he represents, as the frontier of the future. The area has a large population of recent immigrants. "If Texas does not solve the issue of how to deliver a quality education to everyone here, the average Texas family income will have dropped $6,500 by 2030," he said.
"Government's biggest challenge -- local, state or federal -- is education," he added. "How do we create a 21st century quality education in this country? How do we deliver that education, measure it and ensure that every child has an opportunity to get educated? And how do we advocate for the public funds necessary to provide that quality program?"
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