It is very important for us to develop a culture of service. We have empowered staff to become [service] representatives throughout the departments. They actually meet regularly within IT and report back to their teams on what we are doing with new policies and practices in customer service. Then they bring back new ideas from the teams, so we refresh our policies and practices based on input from everyone in IT. No one is left out, and we communicate the discussions from the team meetings to everyone in our department, to make sure everyone feels they are a part of what is going on. That helps to ensure they feel empowered.

Of course, we measure how well we are doing. For our help desk, we use Altiris and we do surveys twice a year. Then we also do them ad hoc when we implement new services to see how our customers feel about how things were rolled out. We recognize not only our employees for doing an excellent job, but we've established some interesting strategies. For example, competitions and awards for our clients in city departments who do the best in cleaning up old files or submitting most of their help desk calls online, versus calling the help desk telephone number, and other similar strategies.

Q: Putting a strong emphasis on customer service seems to have paid off. Is this just focused internally?

A: [Customer service] has been an important part of our success. Actually we have become the organization's best department for practicing customer service. We just had an internal services survey and IT scored 90 percent customer satisfaction. That was over finance - I'm sorry to say that - and HR and also our internal services. We are now seen as the go-to people for modeling the best behaviors for internal customer service. Now we are branching out to external customer service as well. That really helps to get us involved in a lot of high-level projects, where we have an opportunity to infuse strategies using IT for improving customer service in the community.

This brings me to a key point: becoming a community IT organization and moving from the internal perspective to the external perspective. This involves taking control and managing people and projects that directly improve livability and mobility within the city. We are now tackling projects the public can see directly, and they are communicating with us directly through our traffic signal synchronization, the bus transit priority and parking advisory, and the parking meter systems. We now have advisory groups that act as support mechanisms for our initiatives.

Q: What lessons have you learned through all of this? What would you have done differently?

A: I would try to build out the fiber assets earlier. We didn't start this until 2002, even though we had a communications master plan in 1998, which gave the council's blessing to allow us to start building fiber for government use. The reason I say this, is that the fiber-broadband infrastructure has really revolutionized the way we do business, the applications we deploy, the manageability and reliability of our infrastructure and all of the things that improve customer service internally and externally.

Another thing I would do earlier is create an IT academy. I'm in the process of putting all the department heads, division heads and key staff, including supervisors and key project leaders, through an IT academy. This is mandatory, just like harassment in the workplace training, even though it's not a legal regulatory requirement, it is an internal one. If everyone had gone to the IT academy earlier, I believe that my job and my staff's job would have been much easier.

I would also provide performance bonuses to my staff. Fortunately all of

Blake Harris  |  Editor