The city has no fire department but next year, it may introduce the thin clients to city service vehicles to speed service orders.

"It's just so much more efficient," Haisler said.

 
Talk Is Cheap
In another effort to enhance citizen service without breaking the bank, Haisler started examining the potential of a city blog. He said he figured blogging could serve the city's need to reach out to citizens while making it easy for citizens to respond with their thoughts and ideas about the city's diverse activities.

Haisler was pressed to find an inexpensive implementation and found it at Blogspot.com, a free and publicly available forum for all things blog-related.

"If individuals are using it, I thought, why can't we?" Haisler said. "We wanted some way to communicate with our citizens, to let them give input into ongoing projects or just anything, but any CRM database would have been incredibly expensive."

Haisler set up the blog using only the tools freely available at Blogspot. He cites this as one of the advantages of his freebie approach.

"Blogspot has very sophisticated tools for posting pictures. It is incredibly user-friendly; you don't need any HTML skills, any programming skills, nothing."

This contrasts with the city's existing Web site, which is Haisler's responsibility and requires IT abilities to manage. If he goes on vacation, the Web site must wait. The blog, on the other hand, can be managed by virtually anyone in his absence.

The official Web site is chock full of formal data, such as forms and ordinances, official documents and applications for services, but the blog is less formal. There's a weekly update, an invitation to send in photos, even a quiz.

The Web site gets about 35,000 hits a month. The blog has drawn half that each month since its May launch. Citizens' biggest concern to date: When is a supermarket going to open here?
 

Where in the World ...?
Thin clients, free blog hosting -- Haisler clearly knows how to stretch dinero. One more example: Manor's GIS system, or lack thereof.

Haisler wants geographical data, but he doesn't want to pay $50,000 or more for a big commercial system. Fortunately Google Earth offers free, highly detailed maps. Superimpose existing city maps on the Google landscape, and voila! -- GIS on the cheap.

Is this an ideal way to build a civic IT infrastructure? Probably not. However, Manor is making do with what it has. Haisler said he'd like a bigger slice of the local budget, but recognizes that critical upgrades in the local utility infrastructure come first.

In the meantime, he said, it would be great if the leadership of corporate IT firms would step up to brainstorm with smaller communities, like Manor.

"We want their assistance in helping to develop a more efficient city, a more efficient society for our citizens," he said. "Maybe in the process, we could together come up with an idea that would maybe help their businesses too. We want to be a catalyst. We want to work with them to seek innovative solutions that will help them, and help the city too."

 

Contributing writer Adam Stone writes on business and technology from Annapolis, Md.

Adam Stone  |  Contributing Writer