In addition to serving as CIO of Westchester County, N.Y., Norman J. Jacknis is also co-chair of the Westchester Information Technology Cluster, a virtual corporation consisting of more than 150 high-tech firms in the county.

Jacknis promotes information services for the public at large as chairman of the Westchester Alliance for Telecommunications and Public Access (WATPA), a nonprofit citizens group thats working to advance the growth of a community information network. He also serves on the executive committee for the New York State Forum for Information Resource Management, is vice president of the Westchester Library System and first vice president of the New York State Association of Library Boards.

Can you bring us up to date on the Westchester Information Technology Cluster?

The Westchester Information Technology Cluster came out of an economic development analysis we did. We were trying to identify where the county had a competitive edge in the global economy. One of those areas turned out to be information technology.

About a year ago we invited [the IT companies] to come together. They immediately took to the idea of forming an organization. What we wanted to do was create an almost virtual corporation. And thats what weve been working on: creating an identity for the combination of these companies who together can offer a technology solution to almost any customer.

We realize its a global economy so weve been trying to reach out to other parts of the world as well, where there will be comparable organizations or interests. Weve now had a few videoconferences with high-tech companies in China and we just had one with suburban Venice, Italy, which has a very high proportion of medium- to small-sized tech companies. Were going to be doing the same thing with Latin America. These groups together will represent each other in each of the major markets in the world.

Is Westchester Countys extensive community involvement unusual?

I think it is, but Im willing to bet youre going to see a lot more of this in the future. Were all now participating in this global economy and you try to help as much as you can. From the countys point of view, we are investing in the future of the IT sector in Westchester. Obviously, individual companies will succeed or fail as time goes on -- its just the nature of the business -- but we can do what we can [to] help the world understand that this resource exists here.

What are the biggest IT challenges ahead?

One is the need to integrate our systems so that they are presented to our users, particularly the public, in a straightforward way. Too much of government is still organized along departments, even when an individuals problems cut across those departments. And so the big issue is how you achieve that integration so that it really does look seamless to the individual residents of the county. And thats both a technical issue and an organizational issue.

The second big issue is IT folks have to figure out how to take their rightful place at the senior executive table, because this is really now a strategic tool in the public sector, as well as in the private sector.

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