New York is the city that never sleeps and home to more than 7 million people. Across the country is Los Angeles, another multimedia mecca, whose countywide urban sprawl encompasses 14 million people. That's twice the population of the one-jurisdiction New York City, but while Los Angeles looks like one endless city, the county has 88 municipal governments. It's hard enough getting two people to agree on what to eat for dinner -- getting 88 offices to agree on anything is a nightmare. Regarding technology, the different needs of each community and the wide range of options make consensus virtually impossible.
Chief information officers in the Los Angeles region recognize that aspect of doing business and have formed partnerships with peers and vendors. "For us to be successful as we move into the 21st century, we are going to have to have a collaborative relationship with our primary vendors," said Los Angeles County CIO Jon Fullinwider at the Government Technology Conference in May in Sacramento, Calif.
Partnerships can be informal or formal. An informal association is based on limited or undefined interests and an undefined life cycle while a formal association, usually a long-term relationship, uses a memorandum of understanding to define purposes and expectations.
But before governments jump into a partnership, consider the advantages and disadvantages:
* Less formal partnerships are easier to start and can move forward faster. However, they tend to dissolve more quickly if one or two key players change. More formal partnerships take longer to start, may have less flexibility and may fail due to frustration.
* Formal partnerships may result in faster completion of projects and have fewer funding problems and political difficulties because of operating flexibility and financial security that the partners lack individually. But the money has to be there, Brainerd said, because partners must agree to a funding level for the life of the partnership. "This isn't something that they can change their minds in six months and pull back from; they are committed," said conference speaker James Brainerd, then CIO for the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and now in a similar position for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. "It's kind of like the bacon-and-egg breakfast: The chicken is involved but the pig is committed."
According to Fullinwider, government must collaborate for a number of reasons, including:
* Increasing demand for services;
* Budget constraints;
* Population growth;
* Attracting and retaining local businesses;
* Regional leadership; and
* Quality of life.
Besides, "It's the right thing to do," Fullinwider said, and "it makes good sense."
By collaborating on projects or just exchanging information, CIOs and other government employees can provide better service to taxpayers.
Commitment and collaboration have led to partnerships such as the Los Angeles Consortium of Information Technology Executives. The original four members -- the city and county of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the MTA -- were later joined by the cities of Beverly Hills, Burbank and Santa Monica, andRiversideCounty.Limited membership allows CIOs a chance to moved beyond the discussion stage regarding issues.
"It just got to the point where we were saying, 'We need to do something, and if we get too many people in there talking about it, we'd still be talking about things,'" said Fullinwider, chairman of the consortium.
The consortium is not a legal body -- no elected officials are members -- but a way for CIOs to find out what is happening outside their respective jurisdictions.
"CIOs are expected to build relationships within the organization as well as outside the organization, and so partnerships become very natural," John Hwang, general manager of the Information Technology Agency for the city of Los Angeles, said at the Sacramento conference.
"Networking today is not networking of the '70s and '80s," Fullinwider added. "You've got to find somebody like John and Jim or other people out there who say, 'I'm willing to work with you to develop some form of collaboration."
The consortium, with pooled resources, money, intelligence and education, has opened doors to many opportunities. They include:
* Regional telecommunications infrastructure, such as voice, data and video services;
* Data-center consolidation, something Brainerd said will lower the cost of government;
* Better pricing via consolidated RFPs;
* Disaster and contingency planning;
* Regional Internet-based service delivery;
* Improved communication;
* Better planning;
* Maximized expenditure of taxpayer dollars; and
* Improved services to the region's residents.
Taking advantage of these opportunities provides another benefit: The politicians, who employ CIOs, are happy.
"Elected officials coming in are asking why can't we work together," Fullinwider said. "'Why don't you want to collaborate?' The public wants a higher degree of accountability [and] the public is becoming very knowledgeable."
"It's hard to talk to politicians about technology, but politicians understand the end result," Hwang added. "You don't sell technology to the politicians; you sell the results of that technology."
The old paradigm left the public struggling to stay afloat in a vast body of water. The new paradigm has the public swimming side-by-side with cities and counties, government and business to bring about change.
The dealings can be positive if there is communication and collaboration. Or, as Brainerd said, "Partnerships are a good thing."
For more information, contact James Brainerd, CIO, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, at 213/367-1532; Jon Fullinwider, Los Angeles County CIO, at 213/974-1115; and John Hwang, general manager of the Information Technology Agency in the city of Los Angeles, at 213/485-2892.
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