• Andersen's Sarasota data center after the firm sank under the weight of multiple accounting scandals. Now the $12 million facility -- purchased by Sarasota for about $2 million -- provides a bulletproof platform for county applications, and delivers an advanced budgeting and finance system to neighboring communities through an application service provider (ASP) arrangement.

    "The data center had the capacity to serve as a magnet to induce collaboration -- that's what inspired us on the ASP model," Hanson said. "Budget directors from six different communities now partner on this, so we have six minds working on how to best do this process. We're all getting a tremendous system for a sixth of the cost."

    Hanson, named CIO of the county school board late last year, sees similar benefits in combining separate school and government networks and data centers. "Bringing those two organizations together makes so much sense within our community," he said.

    Spurred by a relentless hurricane season, he's also forming a regional disaster recovery cooperative with his counterparts in Florida's Martin and Collier counties.

    "If Sarasota County got hit and I lost some critical systems, I could roll them over to Martin County -- which is across the state," Hanson said. "We would be sharing each other's facilities to address critical needs."

    Backed by forward-thinking county leaders and a talented IT staff, Hanson said he intends to continue searching for opportunities to collaborate. "I think this is how governments will leapfrog past the private sector."

    -- Steve Towns, Editor

    Norman Jacknis

    CIO

    Westchester County, N.Y.

    Untangling Government Complexity

    When Norman Jacknis was in the private sector, he could grumble about issues, but couldn't do much about them. "Here, if I see a problem, I can help solve it," he said.

    Among Westchester County government's biggest challenges is homeland security, and since the county is just north of New York City, it was impacted by 9/11. "We've had everything from setting up a bio-terrorism analysis network where we collect and integrate data from all the emergency rooms around the county, to actually writing our own software for managing emergencies, for handling mass care situations," Jacknis said. "We're creating a wireless data network so we can video conference from the scene of an emergency."

    A long-term challenge, Jacknis said, is simplifying government's interaction with citizens. Many agencies assume citizens understand complex government structures; therefore, people can spend hours trying to figure out which department to contact for a particular service.

    "We've got to do something about that," Jacknis said. "It's getting worse because a lot of us are putting more and more information on our Web sites. We've got, I think, one of the most successful Web sites around, just in terms of the number of people who actually use it, but I'm sure they're not getting the full potential out of it."

    Besides Westchester's success in creating a 500-mile fiber network connecting all government offices, libraries and local police departments a few years ago, Jacknis points to the county's Web site as a significant accomplishment. "More adults used our Web site in the last 12 months than who subscribe to either of the major newspapers in the county," he said, adding that reaching the public has been an issue.

    "We're in the New York metropolitan area, but there is no local television or radio news station, because everything's centered in Manhattan. So this has become a very important mechanism for us to communicate to the public," said Jacknis. "And we've gone beyond the Web. We have voice recognition, so you can get on your telephone, call up our computers and talk to a computer to find out where the cheapest gasoline price is in your neighborhood."