Report: Best Practices Guide for Local Governments

Local leaders share ideas in public safety, IT governance and 5 other categories.

by / June 17, 2011

About This Report

This report is based on the activities of the Digital Communities program, a network of public- and private-sector IT professionals who are working to improve local governments’ delivery of public service through the use of digital technology. The program — a partnership between
Government Technology and e.Republic’s Center for Digital Government — consists of task forces that meet online and in person to exchange information on important issues facing local government IT professionals.

More than 1,000 government and industry members participate in Digital Communities task forces focused on digital infrastructure, law enforcement and big city/county leadership. The Digital Communities program also conducts the annual Digital Cities and Digital Counties surveys, which track technology trends and identify and promote best practices in local government.

Digital Communities quarterly reports appear in Government Technology magazine in March, June, September and December.

Seismic shifts in the economy are forcing dramatic changes in the nation’s cities and counties. Many jurisdictions have made deep cuts across the board, eliminated entire functions, or both, while seeking new means of support and collaboration. This is a time when relevance and adaptability of government — and by extension, the public-sector information technology community — is being subjected to a very real-world test. What’s more, this test is being conducted in full public view, every day and with every encounter between citizens and their government.

The urgent question is around how well, how nimble and how agile government is at adapting to the current environment while never losing sight of the future. This special report offers some answers in the form of best practices gleaned from our extensive local government surveys.

For more than a decade, e.Republic’s Center for Digital Government has conducted its Digital Counties and Digital Cities surveys in partnership with the National Association of Counties and National League of Cities. These surveys gauge how local governments are using digital technologies to meet policy priorities and service demands. This special report collects good ideas from hundreds of responses to the 2010 surveys.

The surveys asked respondents to provide information on their activities in these seven major programmatic categories:

  • IT Governance
  • Public Safety, Emergency Management and Corrections
  • Health, Social and Human Services
  • Commerce, Labor and Taxation/Economic, Business, Community and Work Force Development
  • Finance and Administration, HR, Licensing and Permitting
  • Energy, Environment, Natural Resources, Parks and Agriculture
  • Citizen Engagement, Open Government and Online Service Delivery

A panel of market experts and former local government CIOs selected these examples based on the innovative nature of their approach, their connection to a strategic policy agenda within the implementing jurisdiction, results generated and the likelihood that the solution may be replicable in other communities. Judges also paid particular attention to integration and collaboration among departments and across regions.

We hope the following pages offer some new insight on the issues you’re dealing with and perhaps point you toward innovative new partnerships.

Below is a sampling of best practices highlighted in the

Digital Counties and Cities Best Practice Guide



Category  1
IT Governance
Oakland County, Mich.

Oakland County, Mich., was the standout in IT governance strategies for creating a service model that took into account end-users’ perspectives. In this category, DC judges considered only models where the CIO or CTO reported to the mayor or chief executive. Judges also looked for governance committees that included representation from executives across the spectrum of users and repeatable IT practices reflected in a published strategic plan.

Oakland County excelled in these areas. Since 1997, Oakland County has created a series of 24-month IT Strategic Plans designed to prioritize its technology activities. The plans are created by four IT leadership committees: The IT Steering Committee handles all internal matters regarding IT operations and the three other committees represent end-users, one for the courts, another for land use and the third for financial administration.

Technology job orders also are reviewed by these committees to ensure they align with county priorities. When the process was initially implemented, it didn’t sit well with some Oakland County executives — including Phil Bertolini, then leader of the Equalization Division of Oakland County’s Management and Budget Department. However, in 2001 when Bertolini became Oakland County CIO, he changed his mind when he realized the new system cleared a backlog of more than 900 IT job orders.

Previously Bertolini was accustomed to phoning friends in the IT department to clear each job order.

“As I got more immersed I realized that without our project and portfolio management and without this master plan and our ability to be transparent to the end-users and Board of Commissioners, we [in IT] would have probably been outsourced by now,” he said.

The IT Strategic Plan is a living document. This keeps the county from waiting until the end of a current plan’s two-year cycle to adjust priorities.

“There are two ways new projects can come in and be part of the master plan,” Bertolini said. “One, we can bump a lower priority project off the list. Two, [the agency submitting the new project] can bring additional funding to the table so we can hire additional resources at IT — outsourced resources.”

Before the change in 1997, IT employees frequently progressed with IT projects without getting necessary input from end-users. After 1997, the IT Strategic Plan mandated signoffs throughout any implementation. After more than 10 years of using the strategic plan’s methodologies, Bertolini has found that IT project leaders no longer need those signoffs to be mandated.

“We found out they were communicating on a regular basis anyway,” Bertolini said.

Many of the methodologies in Oakland County’s IT Strategic Plan originate from the Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL), a set of concepts trademarked by the United Kingdom’s Office of Government Commerce.

Andy Opsahl

Andy Opsahl is a former writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.

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