February 29, 2008 By Emily Montandon
In 2006, the Texas cities of Arlington, Carrollton and Grand Prairie pioneered a new business model in government. The result is a regional ERP system that may set the standard for implementing shared services in local government.
Tim Barbee, who at the time was CIO of Arlington, worked with a project team of representatives from all three cities and the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) to develop system requirements, release an RFP, evaluate bids and ultimately implement a shared ERP to handle financial, procurement and human resources for the three cities. The cities paid a fraction of what they would have paid for three separate implementations.
After the shared ERP was implemented, the position of director of research and information services at NCTCOG opened up, and Barbee went for it. "I was interested in the shared services concept, not just for this particular project, but in other areas too because to me, it just makes so much sense," he said.
"All of the cities do a lot of the same things. If you can come up with a way to share resources doing them, you can save a lot of money and spend the savings doing things that are value-added for the citizens - more police on the street, more firefighters, more money to parks and libraries - what the citizens really want anyway."
Now working for NCTCOG, Barbee's department handles research, such as demographic studies, that assist with regional planning. The department also provides information services to internal staff, as well as external entities. One project, which Barbee said predates him, is a hosted GIS application called iCommunities that takes data from cities and supplies it to users via the cities' Web sites using mapping applications and hardware managed by NCTCOG.
Barbee said his organization listens to the needs of the communities NCTCOG serves and looks for opportunities where shared services can make a difference. For example, the agency is finalizing a deal that would help smaller communities enjoy the benefits of ERP using a software-as-a-service approach.
"Our focus is to listen to the customers, and when they tell us that they need something - or if we see something we think they need, we'll go talk to them - but we focus on what the customers tell us they need and that's how we start to set up a new program."
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