DOT.Comm Delivers

City/county IT organization pays off for both jurisdictions.

by / October 4, 2004
Douglas County, Neb., and the city of Omaha merged their technology departments in 2003, creating a single nonprofit organization. The consolidated organization -- the Douglas-Omaha Technology Commission (DOT.Comm) -- cut costs and improved IT services for both jurisdictions.

In 2000, an independent study completed by Deloitte & Touche found that the city's and county's technology-investment levels increased 16.3 percent and 11.2 percent from 1998 through 2000. The city and county appointed Deloitte & Touche to provide initial assessment and evaluation, and then develop a recommendation for providing information services to the city and county.

In September 2003, the report -- which formed the basis of the merger -- was presented in a joint session of the City Council and County Board of Commissioners, the cooperation of which led to the proposal's placement on the ballot in the May 15, 2001, primary elections.

In 2001, Omaha citizens voted to enter into an agreement with Douglas County to merge their respective IT departments and form a separate IT services commission to provide information services for local government offices, officials and the public.

An interlocal agreement was then developed and approved by the mayor in December 2001, and by the county in January 2002. The mayor and other city officials supported the merger.

Led by a CEO/CIO and governed by a board of directors composed of two government officials and three citizens, DOT.Comm began operation in January 2003 with the vision of efficiently using tax dollars and implementing best practices service delivery to citizens.

Cutting Costs
From the start, employees of both departments were dedicated and committed to DOT.Comm's success. Thirty-three city and 77 county employees planned and formed the new organization, and delivered uninterrupted and improved services during the first 18 months of operation.

At the conclusion of its first year, DOT.Comm reduced expenses by more than $600,000; delivered upgrades and improvements to more than 62 government business units within Omaha and Douglas County; and maintained a technical presence at more than 170 customer locations, including 19 police precincts, 31 fire stations, five treasury offices for vehicle registration and DMV services, 10 libraries, more than 70 parks and recreation offices and more than 50 city and county offices. DOT.Comm personnel install, operate and maintain equipment at these locations. Based on service agreements between DOT.Comm and the business units, staff work at selected locations, such as the police department and library.

DOT.Comm currently has city and county civil-service employees on loan until January 2008, and non-civil-service employees. Civil-service employees are represented by their respective unions. This arrangement has worked smoothly for the city/county. In January 2008, all employees will become non-civil-service employees.

The city and county exclusively use DOT.Comm as the provider of electronic information, voice and data communication services for governmental operations and public services. DOT.Comm has a staff of 110 programmers, analysts, developers, trainers, database administrators, system administrators and support personnel. The departments within DOT.Comm include Client Services, Risk Management, Infrastructure and Business Applications.

Cost savings came from various sources. Network resource consolidation realized economies of scale, and equipment purchases were reduced. DOT.Comm negotiated multiyear maintenance contracts at reduced costs. In addition, county and city business units agreed to share equipment and personnel resources, such as WANs and LANs, PC technicians, and a single service desk. DOT.Comm created a standard acquisition process that generated more than a dozen bids and RFPs, which saved money through creation of a multivendor score selection process.

Improving Services
Throughout the first 18 months of operations, more than 144 initiatives focused on improved services to citizens of Omaha and Douglas County were started in collaboration with departments.

DOT.Comm installed electronic recording for the Register of Deeds, which provided improved services to document submitters and reduced long lines for citizens who file manually; implemented single mug shot and crime scene solutions for all city and county criminal justice agencies, which support consolidated booking within Douglas County; and installed a new digital switch and more than 150 workstations at a new county corrections facility.

DOT.Comm also led deployment of an Oracle ERP system for the county and city, and selected and installed a new case management application for the Public Defender's Office.

So where does DOT.Comm go from here?

Delivery of additional services to citizens through the Internet is one initiative. These services will improve the connection between citizens and government through self-service and push capabilities. Web sites will allow citizens to help themselves by determining when and how to communicate with government departments. Citizens will also establish the criteria by which information can be sent or pushed to them from government agencies, such as Public Works.

Much work has been accomplished, and even more work is yet to be done.

One thing is for sure -- DOT.Comm has efficiently managed tax dollars and service delivery to citizens.
Paul A. Christiani Contributing Writer