Troy Swanson became director of the Information Technology Department in Anchorage, Alaska, in November 2003. He took over a department he likened to the federal government -- with "satellite" IT shops in city agencies (police, fire, water utility, health department, etc.) being the states.

The "states" have varying degrees of autonomy, but the goal of his "central IT shop" is for the 69-person technology department to provide standards, policy and procedures for conducting IT business, including procurement for the individual departments.

Describe your function as the central IT department in the "federated model."

There are IT shops spread among other departments that have some kind of IT representative in their shop. Sometimes it's as little as a person with ancillary duties in IT like an IT coordinator, all the way up to the larger stops, [which] have a dozen, dozen and a half IT people.

It's a federated model in that my operation is a lot like the federal government -- we kind of make the laws for all, and manage some of the central processes and the central governance of IT, like procurement methodology.

They act more like states. They can develop their own set of policies, procedures, support structures and relationships with their customers. I don't want to be in the business of telling them how to do their stuff, nor should they be telling me how to do the federal job.

Is reducing duplication in procurement a function of the central IT shop?

Procurement comes in the form of making sure there's a standardized process. We're trying to get price points. I can look up the overall volume and possibly negotiate with the vendor for a better price. We have more leverage that way. When I say I'm the CIO at the city, they're going to stand up. If somebody says, 'I'm the technical services supervisor at the permit center,' they don't pay as much attention.

We usually orchestrate getting better discounts. We sometimes aggregate buys. We recently got a higher percentage discount from Oracle by aggregating some buys between the permit center and ourselves.

How does being a CIO in Anchorage differ from that of another municipality?

Hiring and recruitment: Alaska is a long way from a lot of places.

Training is hard to come by because the [trainers] don't come to Anchorage very much. We end up flying people out.

There are places here where it's 100 miles between gas stations. Just getting people here is kind of a pain. Then, once you do get somebody recruited, how do you retain them?

This isn't everybody's place.

Jim McKay, Justice and Public Safety Editor  |  Justice and Public Safety Editor