August 23, 2005 By Tod Newcombe
Stand on Atlantic Avenue in Virginia Beach, Va., and you can see the name of virtually every national hotel chain emblazoned on the modern, high-rise towers that appear to be jostling for space along the prized real estate that faces the sand and sea. But on the other side of Atlantic Avenue stand the more modest motels and eateries that have existed along the beachfront for decades. These independent establishments have seen better days and now find themselves cut off from the beach by the bigger, better financed chains.
The two views along the avenue reflect the old and new of Virginia Beach. Once a modest seaside town with mom-and-pop motels and restaurants, the city has boomed in recent decades to become the largest in Virginia, drawing millions of tourists to its shores during the hot summer months.
Along with the rapid population growth, Virginia Beach city government has also expanded. And like the fancy, modern hotels that hug Atlantic Avenue, the city's operations and service delivery have modernized, becoming increasingly digital and more progressive. In addition to those attributes, Virginia Beach also carries the burden of limitations. City Manager Jim Spore describes the city as a jurisdiction blessed by its location next to the ocean and a great port, making it an attractive place to live. "At the same time," said Spore, "we face increasing pressures from our citizens to deliver more services but without any tax increases to pay for it."
For that key reason, Spore has made technology central to the city's services and operations. The effort has paid off. In 2004, Virginia Beach was ranked No. 1 in the Center for Digital Government's annual Digital Cities Survey for its robust infrastructure, the number of enterprise applications and most importantly, for the quality and value of its online services. All of this was accomplished while the city's IT funding and number of workers assigned to technology projects has either remained stable or declined, according to Spore.
He attributes the success to the fact that responsibility, governance and oversight of IT has been restructured in Virginia Beach. "A number of years ago, we created the role of CIO with the goal of making that position one of just three chief officers in the city reporting directly to me," explained Spore. "I wanted the CIO position to have the scope to govern IT across the entire organization, and to translate the vision of technology into a coordinated strategy for the city."
The man who took on the CIO role is a 30-year veteran of Virginia Beach. David Sullivan began his career in public service working in the city's planning department. Since then he has held various positions, including information systems coordinator and IT director until taking the CIO title in 1999.
Having spent several years running technology from within the city's IT department, Sullivan, who has since left the position, said creation of the CIO role and its elevation into the city manager's office improved things dramatically. "By moving my job out of IT and into the city manager's office, I had direct access to the decision-making process," he said. "No longer could decisions be made that I didn't know about, and it allowed me to communicate IT to other department chiefs, as well as give IT a voice at the city council level."
In addition to greater access and input on decision-making, Sullivan's position of CIO also took on other responsibilities, including public communications/media relations and public libraries. While it's not unusual for government CIOs to assume duties not related to IT, it's still the exception rather than the rule.
Hardly any state CIO takes on dual roles in an official capacity. A
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