Seeing Stars?

Seeing Stars?

by / May 2, 2006

Los Angeles CIO Thera Bradshaw is fond of saying the stars are aligned for her city to make big progress on IT deployments.

The election of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa in 2005 and the re-election of City Councilman Eric Garcetti, who now serves as Council president, gave Los Angeles a pair of leaders who understand and appreciate the use of technology to address a range of municipal issues. Furthermore, Bradshaw has served as CIO for several years, gaining the credibility to lead citywide technology initiatives.

In Bradshaw's view, these factors put Los Angeles in a position to execute any number of innovative IT applications. Government Technology asked Villaraigosa and Garcetti how technology fits into the city's future. The result of those conversations is this month's cover story.

Among other things, both officials said Los Angeles is poised to join municipalities such as Philadelphia and San Francisco in offering citywide wireless Internet access.

Like a growing number of other big-city mayors, Villaraigosa sees ubiquitous wireless connectivity as key to streamlining city operations, as well as promoting economic growth and closing a stubborn digital divide. He intends to "unwire" Los Angeles within five years through partnerships between the city and telecommunications providers.

Garcetti suggests an even bolder -- and potentially more controversial -- approach. He doesn't discount the potential for public-private partnerships, but notes that Los Angeles already operates the nation's largest municipally owned utility -- the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power -- giving it ready access to infrastructure necessary to create a city-operated wireless system.

With plans such as these on the horizon, Villaraigosa and Garcetti said independent-minded city agencies must take a more strategic approach to "big picture" IT issues. They also argued for giving the city CIO more power to take the lead on these initiatives.

The city government currently spends more than $200 million annually on IT, but just 15 percent goes toward new applications, according to the mayor. Staff salaries, benefits and ongoing system maintenance absorb the rest. Adopting a more unified and efficient approach to IT would free up resources for new projects -- and that's crucial for L.A.'s future.

So, not only are the stars aligned to bring new IT applications to city residents, they may soon be directing a lot more work and responsibility toward Bradshaw's desk.

After several years of diligently pushing Los Angeles city government to take a more strategic approach to technology, we think she's up to the task.
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