An unfortunate paradox of IT is that as quickly as technology solves problems, it creates other problems nearly as fast.
Jurisdictions have relied on IT to help them re-engineer back-end business processes, improve workflow, share information
and increase efficiencies in a wide range of departments. And as electronic government matures, technological advances will help jurisdictions move more services and more transactions online.
The rub is that those very same technological advances give rise to a slew of new problems for jurisdictions. Those advances create a corresponding evolution in the scenariosthatgovernmentofficialsfind themselvesworking in, and officials have to devise new methods for confronting new problems.
Chicago has spent approximately one year developing its Technology Action Plan to set a strategy for solving the high-tech issues the city is facing. One component of the plan is the creation of CivicNet, a fiber-optic network that, ultimately, will reach all neighborhoods of the city.
Chicago, like other cities, is wrestling with intertwined dilemmas brought on by the transformations technology is creating in the private and public sectors. As business evolves into e-business, the needs of New Economy firms change. These firms need infrastructure that is suited to their demands: high-speed Internet access and data transmission. As a result, stimulating citywide economic development requires getting the right kind of infrastructure in place throughout the city.
This connects directly to another dilemma: Not all areas of a municipality can support high-speed Internet access because of the digital divide. Traditionally underserved areas cant hope to land new businesses when telecommunications companies concentrate their efforts on profitable areas of a municipality.
The digital divide connects to another problem: lost potential. How can people living in underserved areas hope to increase their high-tech skills if local schools arent wired? High-tech businesses need qualified personnel because the proper infrastructure, by itself, isnt enough to help businesses grow.
Weaving the Threads
Rather than attacking these problems individually, Chicagos leaders decided that the holistic approach of the Technology Action Plan would have a better chance at eliminating some of the problems the city faces.
"I believe you have to look at things quite differently," said Richard Daley, mayor of Chicago. "You cant look at things in the old ways that people have set down historically, especially with technology changing so rapidly."
Daley and his Council of Technology Advisors, who brainstormed the CivicNet initiative, created a digital infrastructure to stimulate economic growth and serve the citys residents.
The idea behind CivicNet is to combine the telecommunications spending of Chicagos major local government agencies into a single contract that would be offered to telecommunications companies in exchange for building CivicNet by installing fiber-optic cable throughout Chicagos neighborhoods.
Chicago has created "anchor tenants" in city neighborhoods to spur the creation of CivicNet. The city and participating agencies -- Chicago public schools, the Chicago Park District, Chicago city colleges, the Chicago Housing Authority and the Chicago Transit Authority -- own 1,600 buildings scattered throughout the city that serve as anchor tenants.
In addition, the participating entities spend a combined $25 million a year on voice and data communications, which allows them to dangle a $250 million carrot -- $25 million per year over 10 years -- in front of interested vendors eyes.
Lastly, the participating agencies would provide "right-of-way" access to vendors, such as tunnels, or alongside rapid transit lines and inside conduits, which would help make it cost effective to take high-speed fiber-optic cables to city neighborhoods.
"Sometimes, the public has such a negative attitude about government -- federal all the way down -- that they expect government to be the caboose of a train, not the engine," Daley said. "My role as the mayor is to try to be more of the engine and not the caboose.