Top 25 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers of 2006
Since 2002, Government Technology's March issue has honored individuals who are redefining and advancing technology's role in government and society. This year's Top 25 showed that change is possible despite the age-old belief that institutional barriers impede government reform. Congratulations to our 2005 Doers, Dreamers and Drivers.
California Technology Services Department
IT consolidation is a goal envisioned by many, attempted by some and accomplished by few. The task is difficult enough in a single agency; some say it's nearly impossible on a statewide level in a jurisdiction the size of California. But P.K. Agarwal, director of the California Department of Technology Services (DTS), is close to achieving that objective.
Agarwal has a long history of IT leadership in the public and private sectors. Formerly CIO of the California Franchise Tax Board, he pursued a private-sector career before returning to government work in September 2005. Agarwal said his past experiences prepared him to consolidate IT in California.
"[The] California Franchise Tax Board has a culture of getting things done -- in IT as well as in other areas," he said. "A clear vision, strong leadership, internal teamwork and collaboration within government as well as the private sector drive this culture. Couple all this with a passion for innovation, and you have a recipe for success. I fully intend to use a similar recipe in my approach to managing DTS and effectively serving our customers."
Agarwal believes that California is uniquely positioned to accomplish such a monumental undertaking.
"History tells us that the word 'impossible' does not exist in California's lexicon -- the Golden State is a place for dreamers, and the dreams are big," Agarwal said. "I believe California is blessed with extremely talented and dedicated professionals. I'm convinced we have the building blocks for intelligent consolidation, and we will utilize private-sector skills and resources as needed."
Like any good leader, Agarwal knows the initiative depends on people more than hardware and software. "A number of consolidation challenges are not technological but surround people -- their interests, biases and perceptions of the right and wrong approaches to resolving issues," he said. "Getting past these differences is what presents most challenges to consolidation, and change through brute force almost always assures failure."
Agarwal's singular motivation is to allow customers to drive every aspect of business. "This is the sole reason we exist."
-- Chad Vander Veen
The Maine Event
For someone who heads a rural state in New England best known for its lobsters, potatoes and moose, Maine Gov. John Baldacci has compiled a dossier of IT accomplishments that sparks envy in governors of states twice Maine's size.
Like most governors, Baldacci recognizes that Maine won't be more efficient or deliver better services until it breaks down the silos of information and integrates them -- at all levels of government, not just in Augusta, the state capital.
That's where the value of IT lies and the governor knows it, said Maine CIO Richard Thompson. "The governor believes in high-quality services and recognizes that IT is the backbone to making quality service a reality," he said.
To make his vision a reality, Baldacci created the Office of Information Technology, which Thompson heads, and provided the leadership to make IT in government a success. He pushed for broader standards to make data integration across agencies more feasible, and supported creating a project management office, which has boosted the state's IT project success rate. Baldacci's support gave Thompson and his staff the leeway to make Maine's e-government program a national model.
The results speak for themselves. Brown University's annual e-government survey, conducted by Professor Darrell West, ranked Maine second in the nation two years in a row. In 2005, the Center for Digital Government awarded Maine first place in its Best of the Web competition. Center Director Cathilea Robinett noted that more than half of the state's citizens use its portal, Maine.gov. "That's unheard of anyplace else," she said. Most states see 15 percent to 20 percent usage.
Whether it's high-speed access, IT in education or better public safety communications, Baldacci understands effective use of technology, according to Thompson. "He knows how to set the tone, create a vision and present a problem we have to solve. He knows how to ask the tough questions that we have to figure out to answer."
-- Tod Newcombe
Deputy Commissioner, Office of the CIO
New York Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications
High-Tech Civic Duty
Ron Bergmann -- who was raised in a family where civic duty was a calling, not just an idea -- expected to work in government for a year and then return to graduate school.
But the calling proved too strong. "I've been with the city for nearly 27 years now," he said with pride.
Bergmann has worked in various capacities for New York City, including the Department of Health during the West Nile virus outbreak, the bombing of the World Trade Center and the anthrax scares; but for the past three years, he has been deputy commissioner for the Office of the Chief Information Officer (OCIO) in the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT).
"I help the CIO define and implement cost-effective enterprise technology initiatives to meet the business needs of city agencies," he said. More concretely, he spearheaded efforts to use the city's IT buying power through citywide contracts, and by reducing overhead -- not a simple task given the size and scope of city government in New York.
Bergmann didn't stop there. He sits on the state's CIO Council in Albany where he confers with New York's leading IT executives about ways to improve collaboration among the different levels of government. What began as an informal alliance grew into a full-fledged partnership that led to the establishment of some groundbreaking enterprise IT contracts. One of those contracts already has saved the city nearly $9 million by aggregating government buying power.
Bergmann uses the same communications skills to make sure city agencies are aware of the services available to them from the OCIO, as well as helping to initiate new projects requested by the agencies. For example, he's working with the Department of Human Services to complete a daunting 12-agency data-sharing project.
Additionally Bergmann began overhauling the city's IT civil service titles, bringing them up to date for the first time in 25 years. It's not glamorous work, but reflects the kind of dedicated leadership Bergmann brings to DoITT as a career civil servant who understands -- and appreciates -- government, IT and New York City.
"Being civic minded is a big part of my life and it's in the DNA of city workers," he said. "That's what is so exciting. To improve how to deliver services for New Yorkers is both fun and humbling."
-- Tod Newcombe
Director of Technology Partnerships
Michigan Department of Information Technology
The Michigan Middleman
Serving as a middleman teaming private- and public-sector talent throughout Michigan, George Boersma, director of technology partnerships for the Michigan Department of Information Technology, is advancing IT development in the public square.
Several villages and townships couldn't afford to create Web pages and lacked the expertise to produce them. Boersma helped to create symbiotic relationships between those local municipalities and university students with the skills to create their Web pages.
"The experience the students received was invaluable -- they not only gained technical knowledge, but learned lessons in local governance," Boersma said. "Their resumés will also now list real-life experiences and skills, making them stronger candidates when they join the work force."
Michigan residents now have Wi-Fi connectivity at recreational areas like state parks, marinas, rest areas and welcome centers due to a partnership Boersma led called MiWiFi, which joined SBC Communications Inc. with Michigan's departments of Transportation and National Resources, and the federal government.
"We crossed the boundaries within state government, but also crossed boundaries using vendors to help us in that endeavor," he said.
Now Boersma is helping to build a health information network -- consisting of health-care providers and purchasers, employers, health plans, patient advocacy groups, technology vendors, labor unions and government officials -- that will create a statewide IT apparatus centralizing patient information. If a Michigan resident visits an emergency room while on vacation in another part of the state, hospital personnel could use the network to retrieve the patient's health information from a hometown doctor within seconds.
If senior citizens don't remember what kind of medications they have, the doctors can't really access what they can and can't take, because they don't know what's been taken in the past, he said.
Boersma acknowledged that promoting intergovernmental collaboration can be difficult due to turf battles and other concerns. The key to success, according to this middleman, is finding innovative ways to make IT partnerships beneficial for all players involved.
-- Andy Opsahl
Department of Information Technology
Unwiring the Future
When Los Angeles CIO Thera Bradshaw looks at the Van Nuys municipal complex, she sees the future. The facility -- one of seven satellite city halls scattered throughout Los Angeles -- offers wireless Internet access to visitors and links citizens to downtown city council meetings via live video teleconferencing technology.
Over the next few years, Bradshaw expects these technologies to become a common method for connecting city residents to their government and delivering economic opportunity to the region.
Los Angeles launched Wi-Fi service at the Van Nuys complex -- located in L.A.'s San Fernando Valley -- in 2005. Now other wireless initiatives are sprouting throughout the nation's second-largest municipality, including plans to unwire all city government buildings and 71 public libraries.
Remote city council testimony from the Van Nuys complex began in November 2005, and Bradshaw expects to deploy similar technology at other outlying facilities, giving residents of those areas an easier way to participate in city government.
"There are three reasons behind these initiatives: to help close the digital divide, to accelerate economic development, and to make our city government more accessible and efficient," said Bradshaw, who was appointed general manager of the Los Angeles Information Technology Agency in 2004.
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and City Council President Eric Garcetti share Bradshaw's belief that Wi-Fi and other technologies can connect and empower communities, prompting the CIO to predict rapid progress on deploying wireless connectivity citywide.
"Our plan is to unwire L.A., all public facilities within the next three years, and the entire city within five years," Bradshaw said. "The mayor and the city council want to move forward quickly, and I certainly think that's the right thing to do."
Bradshaw has made progress on other issues as well, including a steadily evolving 311 system, which has been adding new functions ever since its launch in 2002. This year, for instance, Los Angeles is adding a service request system to its 311 application that will standardize how the city responds to citizen questions and complaints.
"It will change the way L.A. does business, so that's huge," said Bradshaw. "Citizens will see a service improvement and better accessibility, and we'll get valuable information about how well we're performing."
With strong support from Villaraigosa, who took office in July 2005, and other political leaders, Bradshaw said the city is poised to introduce new services that citizens demand.
"They want to participate in city government. They want government to be accessible," Bradshaw said. "So things like 311, unwiring L.A., and video teleconferencing are all in response to what we've heard from citizens. It's really exciting to be part of this."
-- Steve Towns
California Department of General Services
Defeating the Status Quo
Thanks to Terese Butler, California finally is taking advantage of its massive purchasing power. Butler, project director for the state Department of General Services, led California's Strategic Sourcing Initiative, which is expected to generate savings of $170 million over the next three years.
A balance of strength and humility helped Butler convince California's fiercely independent departments to agree on uniform computer hardware configurations. This enabled consolidation of technology purchases into bulk orders from select vendors and manufacturers. The state will use this purchasing strategy to buy commodities at lowest market prices. Previously California departments bought desktops, printers, servers and other assets from any provider they wanted.
In negotiations, Butler staunchly advocated strategic purchasing virtues while making prudent adjustments when various players gave persuasive advice. "You have to be a good listener, because you have to hear what people don't like," she said.
The assignment, the hardest of Butler's career, dropped her in an intense clash of competing agendas. "There was a lot of pushback from the industry, because they didn't want to see their margins decrease as much as they did," Butler said, noting her surprise at how passionately some in government and the private sector defended the status quo.
Many agreed the state's purchasing process wasn't perfect, but as it stood, they all had firm grasps on their own pieces of the pie, said Butler.
She also faced opposition from disabled veterans enterprises fearing large companies would steal their business. Butler said her team specifically arranged the new purchasing process to avoid that, and actually gave more business to disabled veterans enterprises in some areas.
A state famously plagued with budget migraines saved $170 million from changing its procurement. The Golden State's latest deviant is a budget cutter with results.
-- Andy Opsahl
Jane L. Campbell
Reviving a City
When Cleveland hosted the International Children's Games in 2004, Mayor Jane Campbell ensured each visiting child received a cell phone equipped with GPS so no one would get lost. That's just one example of how the city applied technology in inventive and widely successful ways under Campbell's stewardship.
In Cleveland, information technology has come a long way, and has, in a few short years, modernized the city, Campbell said. "You have to understand where we started. When I came in, my office had no external e-mail. Only 150 of some 10,000 city employees had e-mail accounts." Also, the Northeast power outage in 2003 demonstrated a desperate need for better communication between agencies. "We had to run outside to talk to different officials in their vans and get questions answered."
The city's technology programs have a human face, and make a difference in social programs. In late 2004, after Cleveland was named the poorest large city in the nation, Campbell wanted to use technology to benefit the city's poorer residents, targeting lower-income communities with intensive job-related technology training and international certification. One such initiative was Computer Learning in my Backyard, which started in May 2005 with the goal of replication in all city wards.
In August 2005, Cleveland became an Intel Worldwide Digital Community when it adopted a common database and wireless technology in all key departments, "providing citizen access to government services, and empowering inspectors with tools to access information in the field," Campbell said. A citywide fiber-optic cable helps facilitate the wireless inspection and permit system, which uses handheld computing devices. Cleveland is now in the process of implementing a citywide voice over Internet protocol system.
Campbell's OneCleveland program, in partnership with Intel, is a nonprofit network that serves city agencies, other public-sector institutions and universities. "We have the opportunity to build on this program to help Cleveland's base of traditional manufacturing companies to become more technologically oriented in today's world," observed Campbell. An innovation center for technology is in the works in the city's theater district.
Having concluded her tenure as mayor in January, Campbell continues her work to attract IT investment and international companies to the Cleveland area. She will spend spring 2006 at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University as a visiting fellow.
-- Alison Lake
World Foundation for Smart Communities
Joining the Creative Economy
To pore over John Eger's resumé requires a day's work. Familiarizing oneself with the knowledge he has shared worldwide provides a reader with an absolute library of writings on developing smart communities through technology.
Eger is president of the World Foundation for Smart Communities and the founding director of the California Institute for Smart Communities.
Eger insists that smart communities -- those using IT as a catalyst for transforming life and work to meet the challenge of the new millennium -- become such by fervently embracing broadband infrastructure. Communities that ignore these advancements risk becoming "ghost towns" that lack creative work forces and cannot meet looming global challenges.
"The biggest challenge our leaders face is understanding just how important and pervasive the creative economy is to our success and survival in a global arena, and then understanding much more about what makes our work force creative by acknowledging that a broadband wireless and wired infrastructure for every community is essential," he said. "Further, seeing technology as a tool of transformation needs desperately to be on every community's agenda. If creativity and innovation are the benchmarks of success, how do we get art and music back into the classroom? How do we get our citizens to take back their government in a very new and different digital age? How do we get our corporations to attract, retain and help our communities nurture creativity in all its forms? These are all roadblocks to our future and require the very best and brightest thinking."
-- Jim McKay
Chief Administrative Officer
San Diego County
Conquering IT's Third Rail
It isn't wise to provoke labor unions, but Walter Ekard, chief administrative officer (CAO) of San Diego County, risked it to outsource the entire county's IT operations to a private company in 1999. The project led Ekard on a stormy path, testing his humility, but ending in rousing success.
San Diego's IT infrastructure was in shambles for years -- legacy systems fell apart, and employees were poorly trained and given few tools to provide IT services to 17,000 employees.
Ekard took San Diego County out of the IT business and selected a "world-class" IT provider -- insisting technology production and maintenance was not a core competency of government.
San Diego labor unions waged war with an expensive media campaign, throwing Ekard into a battle for the public's support. The 200 county IT employees displaced by the outsourcing plan weren't unionized, but organized labor still battled the initiative, said Ekard.
"We thought we were doing what was in the best interest of the public, but we [couldn't] spend a million dollars on four-color mailers, [like the unions]," Ekard said, adding that organized labor worked feverishly at turning county employees against his team -- roughly 16,000 of the county's 17,000 employees were unionized. Ekard ultimately convinced county workers that outsourcing would make their jobs easier. But after outsourcing began with Computer Sciences Corp. (CSC), IT got worse.
"We had systems going down, and in some cases, service levels were worse than before," Ekard said.
The difficulty aligning a private-sector business with government workings continued for two years. Ekard had nowhere to get advice -- San Diego County was the first government entity in the country to fully outsource IT. "One of the things that turned it around was when I finally came to the conclusion that I [had] to go public with this and just fess up," Ekard said.
He told CSC he was ready to default, and then suddenly saw rapid improvement. Systems functioned reliably and service levels surged. Ekard said he was satisfied with CSC's performance for the remainder of its seven-year contract, but his team selected Northrop Grumman IT to carry on the torch in 2005.
"We want to get the best, and we want to keep people hungry for our business," Ekard said.
-- Andy Opsahl
Thomas L. Friedman
The New York Times
Our Guide to the 21st Century
Although New York Times Columnist Thomas L. Friedman has written many columns and articles on various topics, it's a safe bet he's never taken a stab at investigating the impact of IT on the public sector. Yet he easily made our Top 25 ranking for 2005. The reason is simple -- he wrote one of the most talked-about books in government and the IT community as a whole.
The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, is a well written examination of today's great economic trend: the outsourcing of U.S. service and IT jobs to China and India, in particular. Thanks to a convergence of forces -- including the collapse of the Berlin Wall and Soviet-style economies, and the rise of the Internet and cheap telecommunications -- the world has entered a new age of globalization, he argues, with "new players on a new playing field, developing new processes and habits of horizontal collaboration."
While the mainstream press raised questions about some of Friedman's assessments, those in the IT community and government nodded in agreement with his findings. CIOs and IT professionals understood the convergence Friedman writes about and the impact technology is having on the economy and society.
"I call certain new technologies the steroids because they are amplifying and turbocharging all the other flatteners," Friedman wrote. "They are taking all the forms of collaboration -- outsourcing, off-shoring, open-sourcing, supply-chaining, insourcing and informing -- and making it possible to do each and every one of them in a way that is digital, mobile, personal and virtual."
Former West Virginia CIO Keith Comstock called Friedman's book, "a disturbingly accurate assessment of what our world has become." In particular, he highlights Friedman's point that a flat world helps not just global IT companies, but also global terror organizations.
But the ideas in Friedman's book that resonate loudly in government circles are those dealing with a flat world's impact on our education system, the economy, and to a certain extent, on IT within government. When government IT professionals read that their work is being outsourced for far less pay, they can't help but ponder the changes taking place.
When politicians try to pass laws forbidding the public sector from doing business with firms that have off-shore operations, CIOs and their colleagues are left confused about protecting American jobs at the expense of access to high-quality, low-cost services and software that could cut public-sector IT costs while improving operations.
It's hard to ignore these quandaries. Friedman has done us all a service by writing so effectively about these sobering yet potentially exciting changes.
-- Tod Newcombe
Gordon & Glickson
In 2005, Mark Gordon and his team of attorneys logged lots of frequent flyer miles. Gordon's Chicago-based law firm Gordon & Glickson -- which specializes in advising government jurisdictions on technology contracting -- worked with San Diego County, Calif., and Virginia on blockbuster outsourcing deals.
San Diego County, which has practiced large-scale outsourcing since 1999, awarded its outsourcing contract extension to a completely new IT provider. And Virginia's state government started down the road of outsourced IT infrastructure and management.
These two events represent the culmination of outsourcing taking root in the public sector over the last 10 years, something Gordon has watched from the beginning. Outsourcing is beginning to flourish, and it's because of new public-sector leadership, according to Gordon.
"In Virginia, San Diego County and other places, a group of leaders came into offices that were willing to make technology a priority matter," he said. "These kinds of transactions are high profile. They take a lot of energy, and these governments need to be willing to put that kind of energy and resources into these projects for them to live."
It's a far cry from the early days of outsourcing, Gordon said, when such deals raised significant ire and were hotly contested by unions and state legislatures.
"In many respects, our law firm got involved in the public sector because it was trying to import the experiences of the private sector," Gordon said, noting that his attorneys are more than partners with government clients. "We're members of a team, and in my world, that's a big deal. It's not that you can't be hired to provide expertise on an issue, but the value proposition is so much more powerful when you're part of a team.
"Teams form," he continued. "They don't pop up. Real teams get built over a common mission, a common understanding, good relationships and trust. We don't own the market on any of those virtues, but we like to think we portray them."
-- Shane Peterson
Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee is something of a conundrum. Outsiders tend to imagine Arkansas as primarily pastoral with an economy based largely on agriculture. Considering much of that description is true, many are surprised to discover that Huckabee is recognized across the country as a lead advocate of e-government services.
On the surface, a rustic lifestyle and high tech don't seem to mix well. Deeper analysis, however, suggests that the combination is symbiotic. Technology has advanced to the point where it binds people together instead of isolating the haves and have-nots.
Huckabee has long been aware that technology can bring government closer to the people instead of acting as barricade.
"In a rural state like Arkansas, technology erases the distance and makes the disadvantages become advantages," he said. "People can live in the mountains or on a lake and have peace and fresh air, yet be connected to the world."
Huckabee's activism in e-government proliferation propelled Arkansas to new heights, including a top-10 finish in the 2004 Digital States Survey -- a study conducted by the Center for Digital Government. Arkansas excelled in the four areas covered by the study -- service delivery, architecture and infrastructure, collaboration, and leadership.
Accolades and awards, however, are not worth the paper on which they're printed if the end product doesn't improve the lives of Arkansans -- which is why Huckabee never loses focus on his motivation for delivering e-government services.
"Our goal is to make every state service available online, from car tags to a hunting license to information and reservations in a state park," he said. "It saves time and money for our citizens, and keeps state government open 24/7."
As the first governor with a blog and online forum, Huckabee makes himself available to constituents in a way never before possible -- fostering relationships that traditional mediums don't allow.
"I have always believed that getting my message to the people directly was superior to having it edited and interpreted by newspapers," Huckabee said. "Being online means the message is clear and pure."
-- Chad Vander Veen
Terri Lynn Land
Secretary of State
In a little more than two years, the Real ID Act takes effect, and much of the sweeping new law remains undefined and ambiguous. In addition, portions of the act that are well defined pose a significant challenge to state governments.
The act was passed by Congress in spring 2005, and inflicts federal regulations on the design, issuance and management of state drivers' licenses. The Real ID Act will turn a state license, for all practical purposes, into a federal ID card. When all unknowns are added, complying with the legislation becomes even more onerous.
Such worries, however, are not stopping Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land, who's charging ahead despite the potential hidden obstacles. Land said getting her state ready means communicating the changes to all Michigan citizens. "We are trying to prepare the public with the basic concept and a message of, 'At a minimum, you will need to locate your birth certificate,'" she said. "We are spreading this message via our 154 branch offices, our Web site and the media. We have been talking about this with community, and legislative, congressional and industry leaders across the state."
Michigan is also represented on the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators' Real ID Act committee, and Land's staff participates in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) meetings designed to keep the states appraised of the DHS's progress, and provide a mechanism for feedback.
Land is taking a leadership role in Real ID compliance -- she recently proposed a dual-purpose driver's license. "Requirements for a Real ID compliant driver's license are very similar to the documentation necessary to obtain a passport -- a requirement of the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. Therefore I am proposing eliminating the need for a passport by using a compliant driver's license as an acceptable document for gaining re-entry into Michigan. If the DHS agrees with my proposal, I think Michigan and all states bordering Canada will benefit. Our economies depend on our ability to secure our borders without hampering commerce."
-- Chad Vander Veen
A Full Plate
In addition to the six major IT initiatives already going strong in Houston, CIO Richard Lewis' hands were full dealing with the fallout from 2005's hurricane season.
Displaced New Orleans residents streamed to Texas to temporarily live in Houston. Lewis and his staff logged myriad hours working with the Red Cross to create online missing persons' registries and databases to match Katrina victims with Houston homes. Now the city is close to going live with a $10 million case-management system that will allow the Houston municipal court system to eliminate paper, Lewis said.
"I've assumed the acting municipal court chief clerk position in addition to my IT responsibilities," he said, adding that Houston's municipal court system will become one of the largest paperless class-C misdemeanor court systems in the country.
The city also is in the build-out phase of a $23 million ERP implementation, Lewis said, and financials and procurement are set to start operation on July 1 -- the beginning of the city's fiscal year.
"We're really under the gun on that," he said. "But we've got a great team on the field. That's going to be a big deal."
Lewis was surprised to learn, after a network assessment a few years ago, that 90 percent of the 300 routers and 800 switches in the city's network were beyond their manufacturers' support life. Houston is now in the second of a three-phase network upgrade to standardize routers and switches.
"Governments really don't do a good job of asset management," he said. "The IT environment in the city is highly centralized. I have control of about a third of the operating expense, but I control the entire capital budget. Sixty percent of the operating expense is in the Police Department and the Public Works Department.
"Those two departments have CTOs that report to me, as well as to their department directors, so I can try to control most of the big stuff without having to own it," Lewis continued. "But it does make for a challenging environment."
-- Shane Peterson
Sarasota County, Fla.
Jim Ley, Sarasota County, Fla., administrator is half of the duo that penned a new chapter in the book of government consolidation.
Ley started consolidating some processes that Sarasota County and the Sarasota County Schools performed separately prior to the appointment of Dr. Gary Norris as superintendent of the Sarasota County Public Schools.
After Norris' appointment, the two hit it off and became a team that would see to fruition the development of a single CIO for both branches of government. As a result, the county and the school district share IT functions, saving taxpayer dollars and allowing both operations to run more efficiently.
"You get to share the value of the investments, avoiding costs being absorbed by any one organization," Ley said.
For years, Ley attempted to work out joint operations with the previous superintendent, with little success. "Frankly I think the superintendent at that time was playing to community desires, seeking not to create any rock-the-boat scenarios, and not much happened," he said.
Then Norris arrived.
"We have a similar administrative view. We are both trusting people, and we hold the same values personally and about the purpose of government," Ley said. "Gary was disturbed to see that during our cable franchise negotiations, the school administrators at the time [in 1997] had failed to work with us to require connection of all schools."
With a new vision for schools and the county, Ley and Norris renegotiated the county's franchise agreement with the cable company, and included the construction of a community fiber-optic network and consolidation of the CIO position.
The schoolroom experience today is an interactive one, Ley said. "Electronic boards, teachers with microphones, and soon, cameras that will allow parents to drop into their children's experience."
-- Jim McKay
From Worst to Best
New Orleans CIO Greg Meffert inherited an IT shop that was 100 percent mainframe, and a one-page Web site with a picture of the mayor on it -- the wrong mayor -- in a city that offered zero online services.
Today, New Orleans basks in the glow of having tied for first place in the Center for Digital Government's 2005 Best of the Web awards in the city portal category, after finishing dead last prior to Meffert's arrival. The city now offers 30 online services and a portal accessible to handicapped citizens.
Meffert also developed a surveillance camera system -- one of the few systems not felled by Hurricane Katrina, which helped the federal government during the evacuation process. The system consists of high-resolution cameras combined with motion detection software that works in conjunction with zoom capabilities.
Immediately after Katrina, the city's Web site developed into a source for New Orleans residents to get data on rebuilding efforts, including an interactive map that showed flood levels. After Mayor Ray Nagin expressed interest in a Web site to collect donations, Meffert and his staff constructed one in less than two days -- within 36 hours, credit card payments were being taken. The site has continued to morph into a source of data for rescue, recovery and restoration.
Meffert has said Hurricane Katrina changed the way he looks at disasters from an IT perspective. But the greatest reward thus far, he said, is the feeling he got when he personally hoisted drowning victims to safety and saw the look of relief on their faces.
-- Jim McKay
Sarasota County, Fla., Schools
A Vision for Schools
Garry Norris signed on as superintendent of the Sarasota County, Fla., Schools in April 2004, and immediately joined with county administrator Jim Ley to consolidate IT functions of the two entities.
"Gary has a technology vision for schools," Ley said, adding that his vision helped consolidate the county and school district CIO positions into a single post. Each entity now pays half the salary of CIO Bob Hanson. This has allowed both entities to get much more value out of the position and put Sarasota County schools on the fast track to the elite in terms of the high-tech classroom.
Sarasota classrooms now feature electronic boards, teachers with microphones, and very soon, cameras will let parents peek into their children's learning experience.
Furthermore, the school district plans to adopt thin-client computing technology. "In the school business, given the limited size and space, to bring in desktops for everybody is not a good solution," Norris said. "And those school districts bringing in laptops for everybody are beginning to experience maintenance costs and damages. Not all laptops are made for elementary students -- or high-school students for that matter."
Servers to support the thin clients will be housed in a new central processing center the school district shares with the county. Norris said putting thin-client terminals on students' desks will be more cost-effective than handing them laptop PCs.
"I don't know what the exact number is, but it may save us 50 percent of our planned budget."
In its newer schools, the district is also exploring a floor system that uses inch-thick carpet or tile squares that accommodate power and network cabling. "Then if you want to reconfigure your classroom, it's easy for the maintenance staff do that," Norris said. "We're moving to a whole new level."
-- Jim McKay
Chief Technology Officer
Acting Like an Enterprise
Comfortably settled into the private sector, former Pennsylvania CIO Larry Olson didn't expect to return to public service. But Olson's home state of Texas made an offer he couldn't refuse: Legislative leaders were ready to overhaul how state government acquires and uses technology -- and they wanted Olson to lead the initiative.
"There was a desire to really move the state to the next level," said Olson, who left his position with a Pennsylvania-based IT management consulting practice in 2004 to become chief technology officer for Texas.
"At the time, I said I wouldn't get back into public service for anyone else," he said. "This was an opportunity to give something back to Texas, which has been very good to me."
Now, almost two years later, Olson is well on his way to consolidating Texas state data centers, expanding cooperative purchasing and implementing shared IT services under landmark legislation known as HB 1516. Through a mix of strong legislative backing -- the bill gave broad new authority to Olson's Department of Information Resources (DIR) -- and careful attention to collaboration, he's convincing famously independent Texas state agencies that the consolidation plan offers a better way to conduct government business.
Purchasing through the DIR's cooperative contracts grew by nearly 30 percent in 2005, totaling $667 million, Olson said. He expects that figure to reach $750 million this year, as state agencies comply with mandatory use of DIR contracts for most IT hardware and software buying. Furthermore, the DIR intends to award a contract for consolidation and operation of the state's 27 largest data centers this month.
Olson gained first-hand experience with statewide IT consolidation during his four-year stint as Pennsylvania CIO, where he helped the state save nearly $300 million.
But making Texas IT behave like an enterprise posed an even bigger challenge. In 2004, Olson estimated that Texas spent almost $2 billion annually on technology -- most of it on an agency-by-agency or project-by-project basis. And, unlike Pennsylvania, power in Texas government is widely dispersed among state lawmakers, boards and commissions.
Given that reality, Olson takes an inclusive approach. He hired former state agency CIOs to run the DIR's cooperative purchasing and shared data center programs. He tirelessly promotes collaboration among state agencies and between state and local governments at events throughout Texas. Olson even installed a new DIR representative in the Texas Emergency Operations Center so the agency could more quickly assist other state agencies and local governments during a disaster.
These efforts are paying off. Olson said support for the Texas consolidation plan is coming together faster than in Pennsylvania.
"It really reflects the philosophy that you have to work for buy-in from everybody," he said. "If you treat everyone as peers and talk to them in business terms about the benefits of doing this, they'll respond."
-- Steve Towns
Director of Interactive Technologies
Washington Department of Information Services
The People's Web Site
To redesign Access Washington, the state's Web site, Laura Parma, director of interactive technologies for the Washington Department of Information Services, scoured the brains of regular Washingtonians.
Citizens increasingly prefer using e-government rather than traveling to agency offices and waiting in line for service. Parma introduced a user-focused research method -- called a usability study -- to overhaul the Web site. States traditionally design their Web sites according to what their department staff and webmasters think, but experts taught Parma's team how to get usable feedback from regular citizens.
The team sat people in a traditional lab environment, over the course of a year, to observe them performing online government tasks such as renewing drivers' licenses, paying taxes or getting permits.
"We're hearing their thoughts, because we ask them to speak aloud about their experience, and we observe how their use really is -- where they struggle, where it's not clear, where terminology might be poor, what we think is intuitive versus what they think is intuitive," Parma said. "[A redesign is] all about what real users who use your Web site need and want in their experience."
Now Parma is conducting a usability study of the site's secure gateway, which users access from the main Web site to connect with the applications available for interacting with government -- one of her past projects.
The gateway joins applications developed and managed by several agencies into one delivery system, bringing them to the user's fingertips in one place. Once citizens or businesses enter a username and password, the gateway treats them like an Amazon.com customer, immediately knowing all about them from the "digital certificate" completed during registration. Now it's time to run that offshoot of the Web site through a usability test.
"We're going to apply those usability principles to everything we've got that lives out on the Web," Parma said.
-- Andy Opsahl
Wi-Fi project manager
Corpus Christi, Texas
Toward a Wireless World
Corpus Christi, Texas, understands the Internet's integral presence in its citizens' lives. Leonard Scott, the city's Wi-Fi project manager, leads the charge to blanket Corpus Christi with Wi-Fi connectivity, moving the city beyond its "hotspot" system, which delivered wireless access only at select spots around town.
Localities across the nation are implementing limited public Wi-Fi access in select areas or at sites. But in Corpus Christi, Wi-Fi will be everywhere.
Any resident with a Wi-Fi-ready computer can access the network from home. People living in rural areas will need a wireless range extender -- a computer attachment that picks up signals from the network's access point. But the network certainly extends beyond home.
Today's workplace frequently expands from the office, vehicle or home -- and sometimes to wherever else an employee is. Corpus Christi professionals will soon have network access for doing business in any part of the city they desire.
The project would give water and gas providers automated, real-time meter reads. It would bring law enforcement officers wireless features like secure mobile access to criminal histories, incident reports and video surveillance. Code enforcement inspectors would have onsite property research and file report information. Emergency responders would have mobile access to building and infrastructure information, and emergency health-care providers could immediately pull up medical records.
Scott is creating a prototype destined for imitation across the country as local governments immerse themselves in the expanding wireless broadband culture.
-- Andy Opsahl
Lemuel C. Stewart Jr.
"In the public or private sector, the opportunity and challenge of making a positive difference is what I enjoy. In this decade, Virginia offers both," said Lem Stewart, Virginia's CIO since 2004. Stewart leads the Virginia Information Technologies Agency (VITA), and as senior executive, oversees all aspects of IT for the state government.
In just over a year, Stewart improved governance of IT investments in Virginia, and engineered the successful transition of staff and resources from 90 agencies into one organization. His IT Transformation initiative streamlined the government's IT infrastructure, ensuring smooth delivery of services to citizens. Stewart's triumphs have also been cost-effective and applauded outside his jurisdiction.
"Our most promising achievement has been the development and award of our public/private partnership with Northrop Grumman," he said. "It will transform 1980s technology infrastructure for the 21st century without additional taxpayer dollars, and with substantial economic development impact in rural areas of Virginia."
This 10-year, $2 billion partnership brought more than 1,000 new high-tech jobs to the state and $269.6 million in capital investment.
Under Stewart's leadership, Virginia ranked third in the nation in both the Center for Digital Government's 2004 Digital States Survey and its 2004 Best of the Web contest. In 2005, the Government Performance Project recognized Virginia as the best managed state, giving it an "A-" in the information category.
Looking to Virginia's IT future, Stewart sees a highly efficient and modern technology environment that will support changing the way business is done and citizens are served. "Also, it encourages continued expansion of collaborative technology partnerships among state, local and federal governments, and the private sector, for continuous improvement in government operations."
-- Alison Lake
Wireless Wakeup Call
It was the modern shot heard round the world.
In July 2004, Mayor John Street announced Philadelphia's plans to create a citywide wireless infrastructure to offer broadband Internet access to residents at a modest price of approximately $20 per month.
Philadelphia CIO Dianah Neff wrote a briefing in spring 2004 that showed how wireless could benefit economic development in the neighborhoods, help overcome the digital divide in low-income and minority neighborhoods, and ensure a bright future for all -- especially the children.
The paper also identified how wireless could benefit public safety and enhance Philadelphia's attractiveness to business travelers and visitors.
After review and discussion, the mayor decided his administration would look closely at the potential of wireless technology during his second term. He directed Neff to conduct a pilot, and appointed a wireless executive committee to develop a business plan.
Street said it's important for local governments to take an active role in the creation of such networks.
"Local government is all about networking and ensuring all our citizens have access to the services they need to help them prepare for a better future," Neff said on behalf of the mayor. "Neighborhood transformation and economic development are local. The digital divide is a local issue. When large portions of your community are not being served and there is a real need, local elected officials need to step in and help."
Local governments have always focused on working for a better future, whether that means helping create roads, making electrical power widely available or obtaining affordable health care for all.
"Elected officials have been there and will continue to look to the future," Neff said on behalf of Mayor Street. "In all these areas -- transportation, utilities and public health -- you have cities that were leaders and those that were followers. In the area of advanced wireless infrastructure, Philadelphia is a leader because it meets the needs of our citizens, families, businesses and visitors."
-- Shane Peterson
When future scholars look back on the early years of the Information Age, they'll highly regard the small city of Manassas, Va. Modern-day residents can relish the fact that their city will occupy a significant spot in historic texts as the first U.S. municipality to offer broadband over power lines (BPL).
BPL technology represents an entirely new level of accessibility for citizens at all levels of the socioeconomic spectrum -- and Manassas Mayor Douglas Waldron is overseeing his city's pioneering venture into IT lore.
In October 2005, Waldron and city utilities director John Hewa announced the nation's first BPL system was up and running. According to Waldron, a combination of factors took BPL off the drawing board and onto the power lines.
"Manassas operates its own electric, water and sewer systems," Waldron said. "We're able to closely manage our own utilities. The utility commission and the city council a few years back entertained some offers from private vendors. We were the right size, plus our location in northern Virginia gave some access to what was going on in Washington."
A deal was struck between the city and Chantilly, Va.-based Communication Technologies to develop and deploy a BPL system -- the biggest benefit of which is providing access to the substantial number of "last mile" residents in the city of 40,000. As a rural community, many private Internet service providers can't or won't reach more isolated homes.
"The reason why it's so unique is it solves a lot of the 'last mile' problem," said Waldron. "That's why it's of interest to the federal government, for rural locations throughout our country. How do you supply the last mile to a farmhouse in Kansas? But everybody has electric service. They have plugs. So it solves the last mile problem relatively cheaply."
More important than being a landmark achievement is the fact that Manassas residents are getting connected.
"The citizens I've talked to are very enthusiastic," Waldron said. "It's growing every month."
-- Chad Vander Veen
When you're the CFO of the sixth-largest economy in the world, you've got plenty of balls in the air. It doesn't help when you put a few of those balls in the air yourself.
Steve Westly, elected in 2002 as California's state controller, came to the state from eBay. It didn't take him long to start pushing for technology upgrades in the State Controller's Office.
He and his staff now find themselves neck deep in the 21st Century Project -- the replacement of California's legacy human resources and payroll systems. The goal is to give California an IT system for human resources that's flexible and can accommodate a combination of decentralized and centralized human resource information, Westly said.
"It's one of the biggest IT projects in California's history, and it's gone pretty much on schedule. I appreciate the commitment from the governor's office to this, and it's going to take California state government's billing practices into the 21st century."
Westly also said the project looks to bring modern functions to the state's payroll operations, such as a bi-weekly payroll system that can be used for large groups of employees; an automated time and attendance system to capture time at the employee level; and employee self-service features, such as address changes or direct deposit enrollment.
Another high-profile system is Ready Return -- a pilot during the 2005 tax season in which selected Californians could view and approve a state tax return completed by the Franchise Tax Board (FTB). The pilot attracted nationwide attention -- it was the first time a state government calculated taxpayers' returns for them.
Westly, FTB chairman, said it just makes sense for the FTB to perform the calculations since the agency already receives information directly from taxpayers and employers. The agency can fill that information on a tax return and do the math for taxpayers. At that point, taxpayers verify the information, make necessary changes, and sign and submit their returns, either on paper or through e-file.
"The response from the 10,000 to 12,000 people who were part of the program was stunning," Westly said. "It was 98 percent positive, and the thrust was, 'This made my life so much easier. Why hasn't government done this before? This is the sort of smart thing we want to see government doing.' It's the sort of thing I know we can do more of in California."
-- Shane Peterson
Anthony A. Williams
City of Access
Maintaining his own Weblog, updated weekly, where he ruminates on issues both public and personal, keeps Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams in communication with city residents.
"I believe a blog can serve a useful purpose in connecting me and the citizens I serve," Williams said.
That the mayor personally uses the city's own award-winning portal illustrates the multiple information sources and services for residents available on the government's Web site.
"One of the most important engines we have to drive our city's transformation is information technology," said Williams. The district uses wireless technology for public safety, homeland security and countless other applications. In 2005, the district government won two Public Technology Institute 2004 Solutions Awards for its efforts.
Williams highlighted some noteworthy district achievements in technology. "From our response to Y2K to more recent security challenges in the post-9/11 period, our technology office has risen to the occasion at every turn," he said. "I'm extremely proud that our Web site went from 20 pages to 150,000, consistently wins awards and allows residents to perform up to 150 different services online."
Cost and practicality are top priorities for Williams. "I'm also very excited about DC NET, our effort to replace 30,000 government phone lines citywide with fiber-optic cable -- saving taxpayers $10 million a year."
Looking forward, Williams said he hopes to put a growing amount of information online, as well as increase online access to make those resources available to everyone.
Williams and his staff consistently adhere to the District's IT vision of "a city of access, where every person who lives, works, visits or does business in D.C., can readily obtain government services or information. In a true city of access, all government processes work, and all government systems function reliably and efficiently."
-- Alison Lake