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Durham County, N.C., IT Governance Board Reflects Smart County

The board ensures not only that IT investments are leveraged across the enterprise, but also that the best decisions are made and successfully delivered.

by / June 19, 2015
Durham, N.C. Shutterstock

As the home of Duke University and with municipalities listed as some of America’s Smartest Cities, Durham County, N.C., is always looking at how to lead the way for innovative uses in IT. And to support the area’s growing startup culture, county leaders are thinking entrepreneurially about how technology can support constituents.

“There are lot of good things happening in the community,” said Les Hamashima, assistant director of Durham County’s Information Services and Technology Department. “It behooves us as a government to make sure that we have all the resources and services in place with the growth we’re experiencing.”

To that end, the county recently developed an IT Governance Executive Board not only to leverage IT investments across the enterprise, but also to ensure that the best decisions are made and successfully delivered. Board members include the county manager, the deputy county manager, each head from the county’s 27 departments, and county CIO Greg Marrow.

“It gets everyone around the table to talk about what investments we’re making as a country,” said Marrow. “When we make significant technology investments, it’s going to benefit all departments and then all citizens.”

When Marrow joined the county two years ago, a process for IT governance did not exist. Decisions were made by individuals rather than in a collaborative style.

Take the county's document management system, purchased about a decade ago. Prior to the board's existence, every department was using the system differently. And though some departments had a need for it, they weren't using it at all. To make use of the investment, the county required a forum where departments could work together toward the county’s strategic goals.

“Through the board, we’re able to work across departments with pilot groups,” Hamashima said. “We can examine what departments should be working more closely on a project. We can talk about which departments working together will offer the biggest benefit.”

The board, which meets once a month during a previously established county meeting, is looking for projects that are in line with the county’s strategic plan, as well as goals that enhance community and family, health, secure community, environment, and visionary government. 

“Our goal is to make sure that anything we’re working on from a technology perspective is aligned to the strategic plans,” Marrow said. “We have goals that are about improving the well-being of Durham County citizens. We can talk about ideas, suggestions and recommendations about how we can improve our level of service.”

Marrow said that ideas come from either direction: top down, from within the board, or bottom up, from IT personnel who make suggestions to the board.

One idea in which the board played a part was the vision for specific county departments to go paperless and adopt document management software. According to a blog post on the Information Services and Technology Department’s website, the county saved $1 million by eliminating an archival storage room, created space for better customer service and provided employees a more comfortable work environment.

The board is also behind the launch of a county and city open data portal that will allow citizens to view investments in technology, other budgets, crime data, restaurant inspections and how schools are performing.

“Instead of the city working independently and the county working independently,” Marrow said, “we decided to come together jointly as a government organization and launch a single open data portal, and make government more transparent to the citizens.”

And in the future, the city plans to form a Strategic Advisory Council that would include outside voices and resources that would offer the board an external view of what is happening in the industry.

“We’d hear a third-party voice,” Marrow said. “It’s my goal to make sure that Durham County is one of the smartest counties in the nation.”

Jessica Renee Napier Contributing Writer

Jessica Renee Napier is a California-based writer who began her journalism career in public broadcasting. She teaches yoga, enjoys traveling and likes to stay up on all things tech.

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