Good things happen over a cup of coffee in Milwaukee. Regular, informal conversations between the city and county CIOs — usually before the workday begins — have sparked several collaborative projects, and they seem poised to produce even more.

It all began a few years ago when Milwaukee County lost its lease for data center space. The city had space in its data center and offered it to the county. In exchange, the county purchased a back-up generator for the city facility.

The fact that no money changed hands made the deal easier to swallow, said city CIO Nancy Olson, who meets with county CIO Laurie Panella every other month.

The success of that collaboration led to another. They created a shared Web portal — Milwaukee.gov — that provides access to city and county services and resources. The portal uses the city’s existing content management system (CMS) and URL. Because they share the CMS, they split maintenance costs, Olson said, adding that the low-key arrangement works because the partners have put aside their egos and built a high degree of trust.

Now the city is redesigning its Web page, and the county may adopt the design — and help pay for it, Olson said. They’ve also discussed a shared email system.

The approach may not solve every budget challenge facing the city and county, but it provides some comfort to their CIOs. “The auditors like to ask what keeps me up at night,” Olson said. “The answer is still ‘everything’ — but I do have a back-up generator now.”

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  |  Editor

Steve Towns is editor of Government Technology, and executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government Technology,Public CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market.