For anyone who has known or worked with Dr. Costis Toregas, president of Public Technology Inc. (PTI), the word "orgware" crystallizes the man's philosophy and his unique way of explaining it to local government leaders. The word, which Toregas coined, refers to the huge amount of taxpayer money and resources -- 80 percent of every dollar -- needed to support, manage and organize the other 20 percent spent on technology.
Today, Toregas' orgware philosophy is common knowledge in government leadership circles. But in the 1970s and 1980s, when mayors and managers were just beginning to look for ways to benefit from IT, they didn't understand that computer boxes and the software inside them were just the tip of the iceberg in terms of IT costs and management.
As president of PTI, a small but influential organization of cities and counties, Toregas articulated the need for sound IT management and policy in government to control orgware costs and issues when the demand for automation took off. Manage your orgware, Toregas argued, and you manage your destiny in terms of technology. Those who know Toregas observe his unique ability to not only foresee upcoming problems, but also clearly articulate solutions.
After 32 years of helping local governments achieve more with technology, including 19 years as head of PTI, Toregas is stepping down -- but he's hardly retiring.
"I hope to teach, to consult and to pursue some new interests," he said.
Brian Moura, assistant city manager of San Carlos, Calif., who has known Toregas since he became president of PTI, talked about his energy and passion for bringing the technology's advantages to local governments.
"Costis always had the vision on how to engage and get local leaders excited about what technology could do," Moura said. "His commitment to the concept of bringing technology and local government together is what makes him special."
-- Tod Newcombe, editor, Government Technology's Public CIO
Interview by Blake Harris
Q: How did you become interested in technology and the public sector?
A: It began when I was a student at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y. I took an electrical engineering degree, and got a master's and Ph.D. in environmental sciences. I did my Ph.D. thesis on what was then an unexplored subject: the location of public facilities.
Back when street networks were purely academic concepts, I developed mathematical formulas to optimize the location of public facilities. After Cornell, I went to work for a small organization called PTI that was just starting to apply my doctoral dissertation to the location of fire stations. So unlike many graduate students who do a thesis and put it on a shelf to collect dust, my thesis was put to work in about 250 American and Canadian cities over the next four or five years.
That gave me the bug for the public sector, and at the same time, gave me a thirst to think about using technology in a variety of service-delivery areas. It also taught me the importance of early involvement of key decision-makers in technology implementations, so they could feel ownership of the end result. That significant guiding principle has stayed with me. Even though elected officials may not be technology experts, you have to somehow bring them into the process and allow them to articulate what they feel needs to be done, so the end result feeds their vision and passion, and not just that of an administrator or operations manager.
Q: Looking back at the history of PTI, would you say the organization was always at the forefront of technology -- PCs, laptops, e-mail, GIS -- long before most of the public, or even private, sector?