most would look for a city considered a technology leader. But if anyone wonders why Des Moines, Iowa, ranks so high in the annual Digital Cities survey, sponsored by the Center for Digital Government, they might want to start with CIO Michael Armstrong.
Des Moines has the distinction of being one of the most digitally advanced cities in the country for its size. For Armstrong, part of the reward for achieving such recognition is that technology in local government impacts peoples' lives in ways that don't happen in the private sector.
"You can see the effects of what you do on the community," he said. "There's a vitality to that you can't get elsewhere."
Armstrong's career began at the University of Kentucky. Later, he worked in the purchasing department for the city of Louisville and took up the torch for IT management in 1982. In 1997, at a point in his life where he could have retired and rested on his laurels, he took up a new challenge and moved to Des Moines, becoming the city's CIO.
When working for Louisville, Armstrong led the development of the city's -- and state's -- first municipal Web site. He also helped the city lay down a fiber-optic network and build up the city's distributed PC network when few jurisdictions were contemplating something so bold.
Armstrong brought those same visionary skills to Des Moines, a midwestern city eager to expand its use of technology for operations and service delivery. To date, Armstrong has been instrumental in building another fiber network that links 60 city buildings and moving GIS out of the backroom and onto an enterprise platform so that more workers have access to this invaluable tool. He's also overseen implementation of citywide ERP and CRM systems, of which the latter was rated in the top 10 by the Aberdeen Group.
-- Tod Newcombe, Features Editor
Geographic Information Systems
Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications
Alan Leidner became a New York City employee when John Lindsay was mayor, a subway ride cost 20 cents and maps existed solely on paper. It was 1969 and Leidner, fresh out of college and filled with 1960s idealism, was determined to make a career in public service.
Leidner, assistant commissioner for geographic information systems with New York City's Department of Information Technology & Telecommunications, remembers his introduction to mapmaking. "I had to survey building conditions using hundreds of cut-ups of blocks and buildings," he recalled. "To create a thematic map, I had to hand color every one of the cut-ups."
Despite his humble start, Leidner maintained interest, eventually bringing his mapping experience to the city's Department of Environmental Protection. Here, he helped modernize the city's maps with GIS, at which point light bulbs began flickering on. "Then we started to register and relate all the city's data that had a spatial component to this infrastructure of spatial maps and data," he said. "That was the inception of the modern, New York City GIS."
In the late 1990s, the West Nile virus was controlled and eradicated by the city's GIS system; Leidner and city workers pinpointed West Nile hotspots with overlays of wetlands and drainage systems, and rather than bombing areas with toxic pesticides, the city sprayed discreetly and quickly managed a major health problem.
After Sept. 11., and practically overnight, Leidner helped set up a 25-station GIS center temporarily housed on a pier on the Hudson River. The team quickly created maps for about a two-week period, handling 2,800 total requests as the city responded to and recovered from the tragedy.
"It was vindication for the entire GIS community and the city," Leidner said. "It showed how we can bring together all these efforts and add value to