Notes Fom The Field

Notes Fom The Field

by / January 31, 1998
"Regional collaboration's time has come...We can't all go out and build data centers; we can't all go out and dig up the streets again. We're no longer independent from one another; we're sharing services ...That means we have to have integrated networks. We can't afford to each have our own systems. And if we're going to have integrated networks in place, why can't we do that collectively and capitalize on the robustness of the infrastructure?"

-- Jon Fullinwider

Editor in Chief


This month, our cover article features Jon Fullinwider and John Hwang, the senior information technology executives for two of the largest local government jurisdictions in the world -- the county and city of Los Angeles, respectively. The story of what these executives set out to accomplish strikes at the core of one of the toughest challenges facing governments as they operate in an increasingly internetworked society.

Fullinwider and Hwang are attempting to best a powerful, yet outdated, notion that the form of government -- the structural issues of jurisdiction and turf -- is more important than the function of government. A holdover from the Industrial Age, this "form over function" view of the world has erected regimented, stratified bureaucracies that are complex and expensive for both citizens and governments to deal with.

It is the exception to see a government jurisdiction (or agencies within the same jurisdiction) cooperate around a common initiative -- whether that cooperation centers on building a new information system or implementing a human services initiative. Failure to cooperate fosters ineffectiveness in the public sector and leads to situations in which adjacent law enforcement agencies, for example, find it impossible to share criminal history records or communicate in emergencies.

It is not uncommon for a city or county to struggle with financing a new telecommunications infrastructure. If, however, they teamed with adjoining jurisdictions, costs and risks could be shared and an even more robust infrastructure could be built.

Perhaps this lack of coordination was justified in the days when technology was hostile to information sharing. This is not the case in an era of networked computing. Electronic networks of all types now permeate the once impassable walls between jurisdictions and agencies. It is time for organizational and management thinking to follow.

Networked government reduces the importance of jurisdictional barriers and builds cooperation toward the attainment of common regional objectives. Models for this are rapidly emerging in places like Silicon Valley -- where some 20 jurisdictions are using the Internet to build a common electronic interface to better serve citizens throughout the region.

The Western Governors' University is another example of placing the function of providing students throughout the region with a good education above the traditional form of a brick-and-mortar college campus.

Fullinwider and Hwang's story is taking shape in two of the largest local governments in the world. The Los Angeles region employs over 200,000 people in local government and spends more than $1 billion on information technology annually. If these two pioneers can succeed in their bold vision for a networked Los Angeles, it will serve as a successful model for governments of all sizes throughout the world.

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February Table of Contents