Philadelphia Chief Information Officer John Carrow is well known across the country for his organization and leadership of the city's information technology strategies and applications. Since 1993, 49 new applications have been implemented, including a multi-department geographic information system. And in recognition that technology doesn't run itself, a technology training center, which serves about 8,000 students a year, was created.
But Philadelphia's IT use wasn't always this organized or aggressive. When Carrow became the city's first CIO in 1993, one of his initial observations was that there was a degree of IT expertise within individual departments, but no overall city strategy or communication. "There were pockets of technology people who didn't even talk to each other," he said.
And this wasn't because Philadelphia's government had a "primitive" telephone system without voice mail, and lacked a citywide e-mail system. "Even if there were good communications devices, there were enough walls [between departments] that they probably wouldn't be talking anyhow," he said.
A NEW MAYOR
The city CIO position was created as part of a city government reform effort fueled by a near financial meltdown and a new mayor. Edward G. Rendell became mayor in 1992 and brought a new administration with an agenda to change how things worked. "We had 200-plus years of defined manual processes," Carrow said, and inertia had long been a part of the city government's culture. The time was ripe for some changes.
The CIO position was created after a task force appointed by the new mayor took a look at a range of issues across Philadelphia's government. The working group investigating information technology recommended, among other things, having a focal point for developing IT policies and coordinating activities across department lines. Rendell quickly embraced the recommendations, and issued an executive order establishing the Mayor's Office of Information Services in 1993, with a CIO accountable to the mayor.
NEW KID IN TOWN
As the new kid on the block in a large city government, one could expect commissioners to resist changes and try to short-circuit any moves by the CIO which could disrupt their department operations. One could also anticipate that the mayor's office would have to referee friction between departments and the new CIO.
But, fortunately, it didn't happen that way. "People were looking for guidance, and weren't looking for a fight," Carrow said. "We had our backs to the wall financially. Everyone recognized -- even the unions -- that we had to change how we did business. We had to row our boat and we knew we better row in the same direction."
Carrow -- a 1966 U.S. Military Academy graduate who later earned a master's degree in electrical engineering and computer science from the University of Illinois -- had no government experience except for 11 years as an Army officer. When tapped as Philadelphia's first CIO, Carrow had been a high-ranking technology manager for 16 years at General Electric Co.
He came to Philadelphia as an unknown quantity to commissioners, but with some authority over their departments. With this in mind, Carrow said he began his tenure by "building relationships with all the key commissioners. I had to build trust."
First, he sent each of the 50-plus department managers questionnaires to learn their expectations of him and get feedback on current conditions. Carrow spent his first month visiting each of the city departments to get a better understanding of their needs and operations, and to learn about their information technology perspectives.
Carrow said he found that many of the department heads really didn't have an IT perspective. "These are great people running their businesses," he said, "but some departments' comprehension of technology was nonexistent."
Armed with this initial data, Carrow formed a task force with membership from across city government. The goal was to generate a strategic plan,