July 8, 2011 By Brian Heaton
Add Jacksonville, Fla., to the list of cities that are using Internet-based technology to improve and connect municipal services.
In collaboration with Cisco, Jacksonville will begin a pilot program that uses technology to enhance traffic engineering and public safety, and remotely connects citizens to various departments in the city. The project is part of Cisco’s Smart+Connected Communities initiative, which uses networked information to join citizens together, share resources and support social, economic and environmental stability.
Kevin Holzendorf, CIO of Jacksonville, said the partnership was born out of the city’s need to establish best practices for its financial and technical resources. He added that like many urban cities, Jacksonville struggles with getting different computer systems to work together. Holzendorf hopes the program with Cisco can improve efficiency and customer relations citywide.
Emergency response is one of the areas that Jacksonville wants to improve on in the initial six to 12 month pilot program. Since Jacksonville spans more than 840 square miles, Holzendorf explained that the city wants to develop a mechanism that changes traffic patterns so that public safety and fire officials can reach disaster and crisis scenes faster.
In addition, Jacksonville’s CIO said the entire pilot project is an “expense-neutral” endeavor with no additional cost to the city’s budget. By addressing a high-profile issue such as public safety, it will show how tax dollars are being used to benefit the community as a whole.
“Being an internal service provider, a lot of times citizens don’t see what we do and how it connects with their everyday lives,” Holzendorf said. “So we really wanted to focus on something citizens could see.”
Another system the city plans to develop under the Cisco initiative is real-time video chat between residents and city personnel. Again, because of Jacksonville’s large land area, Holzendorf said many residents, even when driving, have a hard time getting quickly to destinations in the city. So he wants to virtualize the process and make access to the city government easier.
“We wanted to be able to look at a lot of the services citizens come downtown for and how they can connect [via] their home or work computer,” Holzendorf said. “So we’re looking at a way where [someone] can use a video camera on their desktop and connect to a clerk in our planning or fees department and able to ask questions and get answers face to face.”
Jacksonville is joining other U.S. cities that already are a part of the Smart+Connected Communities initiative, including San Francisco, Holyoke, Mass.; and Colorado Springs, Colo. Cities abroad are also involved in the program, such as Manila, Philippines, and Incheon, Korea.
The agreement between Jacksonville and Cisco is nonbinding and can be ended in less than a year by either side. City officials expect a longer relationship, however. Holzendorf said that as long as progress is being made on expanding city services, Jacksonville will likely continue the program and expand it to other areas.
“I believe it always begins with doing more with less, but we want to make sure we’re servicing the citizens of Jacksonville,” Holzendorf maintained. “How do we provide [services] more efficiently and use resources so we can deploy those savings somewhere else in government?”
Holzendorf added that Jacksonville is in the midst of setting up a private cloud system for its financial system and just built a new data center that’s fully virtualized. Holzendorf wants to see how those systems and servers can be integrated into the pilot project.
“The infrastructure is already in place, and now we’re looking how to connect it,” he said.
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