Despite economic uncertainties, digital government is alive and kicking in the nation's largest cities. That's the impression CIOs from Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and New York City gave when they addressed hundreds of IT vendors in Tysons Corner, Va., yesterday for the annual Beyond the Beltway market briefing on state and local government IT.

Signaling a possible trend among tier-one cities, all three city CIOs who spoke at the event have had extensive prior experience in the private sector and seemed determined to use their knowledge about governance and innovation to bolster the role of IT in local government.

New York City CIO Paul Cosgrave talked of how Mayor Michael Bloomberg's 311 call center system has helped to make the nation's largest city more accountable, accessible and transparent.

With the clock ticking down -- Cosgrave's appointment as CIO will terminate when the mayor's term-limited administration ends -- the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) wants to take 311 to the next level. This includes making call information available over the Internet and enhancing the hotline with help from nonprofits, such as United Way.

But answering 40,000 calls daily is just one aspect of technology at work in the Big Apple. More than half of the city's billion-dollar-plus annual investment in IT goes toward public safety. For example, the city is building a $500 million public safety wireless network.

DoITT has also rolled out Access NYC, an online human service eligibility determination portal. Then there's CPR, which stands for Citywide Performance Reporting and uses data gathered by different systems, including 311, to support the city's measurement of outputs.

Randi Levin, who recently worked as a CIO in the entertainment industry, admitted she has experienced a tough learning curve since taking over IT operations in Los Angeles. She has spent much of her brief time on the job, working to improve IT governance. Next on the agenda is tackling a crumbling and over-saturated IT infrastructure, improving the city's enterprise IT contracts, aggregating applications and instituting portfolio management to help prioritize IT projects.

A new financial system and data center consolidation are also in the works.

Los Angeles was one of the cities affected by Earthlink's pullout from Wi-Fi, but has responded with plans to piggyback the popular wireless service on the city's water and utility metering application build-out. The city's 311 service also continues to grow and Levin announced that the city would introduce a local government version of YouTube.

Vivek Kundra, CTO for the District of Columbia, started on a somber note, talking of how IT's role in the city's education system has been a disaster. His presentation included photos of boxes of PCs that have sat unopened in schools for years. Kundra's response is to try and use technology quickly and cheaply to stop the waste and bring order to education.

Kundra spoke in non-tech terms about his initiatives. He describes making stock investments in IT projects, "buying" the right ones and "selling" the losing investments. He spoke of a "war on paper" and used the military term "force multiplier" to bring attention to the power of IT and the Internet in government.

The district's CTO said the city is investing heavily in business intelligence tools to help measure performance and root out inefficiencies. For example, Kundra has implemented TechStat, which he described as methodology for "diving deep into the functional areas of government" to try and find savings. TechStat showed the city was still installing landlines for government field workers who rely mostly on cell phones to do their jobs. As a result, the city saved $5 million by eliminating the wired phone connections.

Tod Newcombe  |  Senior Editor

With more than 20 years of experience covering state and local government, Tod previously was the editor of Public CIO, e.Republic’s award-winning publication for information technology executives in the public sector. He is now a senior editor for Government Technology and a columnist at Governing magazine.