Category Archives: MIX

- CIO Loners and Joiners

Chief Information Officers need “help”. Some might say we need psychiatric “help”. I’d say we especially need the psychiatrist’s couch. Or, perhaps, we need to play the psychiatrist, listening to the people on the couch – our customers.

CIOs need to be “joiners”. We need to be good at establishing relationships, empathizing (putting ourselves into the shoes of others), and we need to be generalists in our businesses.

I was reminded of this again last week as the Metropolitan Information Exchange (MIX) held our annual conference in Raleigh. MIX is composed of about 60 CIOs from larger (over 100,000 population) cities and counties who collaborate together to harness information technology to make their individual governments efficient and effective.

But I’m constantly amazed that we only have 60 members when there are 276 large cities and 578 large counties. So MIX has only 60 members although there are over 850 large cities and counties. So why don’t other government CIOs join up? I’ll get to that.

Yes, CIOs need to be “joiners”. Yet, IT is not a field which easily produces leaders who are collaborators, listeners and joiners. IT engineers and technicians and programmers are naturally heads down “hey guys let’s write this code” or “get this server installed”. We tech types prefer to use e-mail or text message or even face-to-face contact rather than the telephone. In many ways we are “geeks” or “nerds”. I’m often proud to introduce myself as the “Chief Seattle Geek“.

Yet, when we become senior IT managers or CIOs, exactly the opposite skills are required. Here are some specific examples:

  • Empathy with customers. Often this is called “knowing the business” or “customer service”. As a City CIO, my job is not to build and implement IT networks or applications. It is, rather, understanding the business of City government – what the Parks department or the water worker or the cop on the street or the elected officials need to do their job in service to constituents. Sometimes I need to help them adapt new and emerging technology to their businesses. Or push them a bit to do so. One of the things which most surprises me is when a department director says “I’m not technical”, as if they expected me to speak in ones and zeroes or bits and bytes. Dang! I don’t expect YOU to be technical, Ms. Department Director – I expect you to be the chief of all the firefighters or the director of planning and zoning and building permits. And it is MY responsibility to understand YOUR business and help you adapt technology to support it. The City (or County or State or Federal) government is not about” technology” but about serving citizens and people.
  • Empathy with employees. Most employees work for a government because they are proud of their public service. Yet, especially in these times of shrinking budgets and frozen salaries and layoffs, they are under enormous strain. Helping them to stay focused and making sure they have the tools to do their jobs requires a lot of empathy. And a bit of time on the psychiatrist’s couch. And maybe a few shared tears and a crying towel.
  • Re-Inventing the Wheel (collaboration). More than any other job in a government or corporation (except, perhaps, CFO), the CIO has to understand almost all aspects of the business of government, and understand how the pieces fit together. Governments (like all businesses, I suppose), are a set of department silos – an electric utility and a water utility and a transportation department and a police department and a fire department and a parks department and more. While these departments often collaborate on certain functions (such as permit reviews or handling a public emergency), their natural tendency is to operate independently. They prefer to invent their own (or buy their own) tools such as work management, document management and financial management. Unless corralled, the will design their own logos and build their own websites and get their own phone and network systems. It is the job of the CIO (along with CFO, and in support of the government’s elected CEO and other elected officials) to help departments collaborate. To help them work together rather than re-invent the buggy and horsewhip. To help them understand that we are really one government, not a collection of individual departments.

In terms of collaboration, CIOs not only need to prevent re-invention of the wheel within their city or county, but they also need to watch for collaboration and innovation opportunities across the nation.

Is the District of Columbia making itself transparent with an open data catalog and “Apps for Democracy”? Gee, wouldn’t that work in Seattle? Has Harris County, Texas, built an 800 megahertz public safety radio network which allows cops and firefighters from many counties to interoperate and support each other during small disasters and large? Would that work elsewhere? Baltimore and Chicago and Miami-Dade have created innovative new 311 centers and constituent relationship management systems. Wouldn’t something like that make governments more accessible everywhere else?

And that’s where organizations like MIX (for City/County CIOs) or the Digital Communities information sharing group , with 644 members, or NASCIO for State CIOs or even (here in the Seattle area) the Technology Executive Peer Group (about 40 mostly private and some pubic CIOs) come into play. These groups help CIOs to exchange information about applications and best practices and solutions which work.

Yet, out of the hundreds of government CIOs in the nation, only a few join these groups. Are the rest “loners” out on their own? Or are they working so hard within their individual governments – managing their technology workers, building relationships with their own elected officials and business departments and draining their own swamps – that they don’t have time to collaborate with the rest of us who are “joiners”?

Maybe, with comments to this blog, we’ll find out … !

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Filed under CIOs, government, MIX

- Great Recession? Opportunity!

Tech Trends on the Upswing

Tech Trends on the Upswing

In my previous blog entry, I discussed some of the “downswing” trends in IT in local government. This column will be about trends on the upswing – gaining prominence and resources – in cities and counties. Most of this information came from discussions with CIOs of other large cities and counties around the country, held at the Metropolitan Information Exchange (MIX) conference in Albuquerque in September.

On the rise in local government are cloud computing or hosted services, public safety support, geo-location, award-winning websites, social media use (blogging, twitter, Facebook, YouTube), consolidation, hiring chills or freezes, the “greening” of IT and responding to climate change.

MIX members certainly are leaders in online services, as recognized in the Center for Digital Government’s annual best of the web awards. We are all driving more services online, but also struggling to make more data available for transparency and accountability. Those governments receiving awards are doing an exceptional job.

 “Cloud computing” or hosted applications or software-as-a-service (SAAS) are finding fertile ground in government, although only the seeds have been planted – just a few applications are sprouting. Bill Greeves, CIO of Roanoke County, Virginia, has been a leader in this field in government, especially with his Muni Gov 2.0 initiative. Bill is also a fellow blogger here on Digital Communities.

As the budgets of IT departments are cut, they no longer have the staff or resources to support applications, sometimes even mission critical ones. Many of us are therefore hosting new applications such as job application or payroll systems in the cloud. The City of Seattle will probably implement both applicant tracking systems (although with budget constraints, jobs are few and far between!) and customer relationship management systems “in the cloud”. Besides ease of support, placing applications “in the cloud” also results in regular software upgrades and predictable costs.

Most MIX cities and counties are not cutting public safety or fire/emergency medical services departments. The City of Seattle, while cutting over 300 city employees in 2010, is preserving the number of firefighters and increasing the police department by 21 officers.

And support for public safety systems such as computer-aided dispatch (CAD) and records management is growing. A side effect of this growth is geo-location or automated-vehicle-location (AVL). Many local governments have implemented it for fire departments and it is seeing increasing use in police, transportation and utilities. AVL allows dispatch of the closest unit to a request for service, shortening response times. During disasters or major incidents, the incident commander and emergency operations center can quickly see and coordinate the deployment of units from many different disciplines to the scene. As one example, the City of Seattle just implemented a new CAD for Police which includes a mapping component showing not just unit locations, but active calls, waiting calls and completed requests.

Social media are seeing an explosion of use (duh!). Social media include blogging, online video (e.g. YouTube), twitter, mashups (data display on a map), and “friend” sites such as Facebook. Every MIX member is trying to figure out how to use these new technologies but at the same time comply with the web (pun intended) of laws for local government, including records retention and public disclosure while somehow preventing degeneration of public comment into the gutter often found in comments on newspaper articles. The City of Seattle just implementedd a series of social media policies, and is robustly using blogs and Twitter, as well as video and Facebook.

Again, Bill Greeves and the Muni Gov 2.0 crew are actively holding meetings and discussions in Second Life, another use of social media.

Next, I’ll mention climate change. Some amount of debate continues to swirl around this topic – is global warming real or not? Is it caused by humans, or flatulating cows? This whole discussion is actually irrelevant. The fact is the public – and their elected officials – are demanding climate-friendly reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, which, by the way, also reduce our use of and dependence upon foreign oil. Mayor Greg Nickels of Seattle just had the 1000th city (Mesa, Arizona) sign the Mayors’ climate protection agreement, an initiative he started in 2005. Bottom line: climate change is something IT departments need to address, too.

Then there is “green technology”. I’m a notable skeptic that technology can ever been “green” (see my blog entry on “gray technology”) although e-recycling programs like Total Reclaim in Seattle are recycling 99% of TVs and computer monitors. Every MIX member jurisdiction is working on green tech. Some of this is almost inadvertent, e.g. lengthening replacement cycles of desktop and server computers due to budget cuts. But other initiatives are quite proactive such as installing power-management software on desktop computers (e.g. from Verdiem), virtualization, and reducing the use of paper. In the future we will probably demand to know which manufacturers and vendors are kindest to the environment and use the lowest carbon emissions in production of their products.

As Rahm Emanuel has stated “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste“. Those of us who are CIOs in local government are trying to balance reduced budgets, make staffing cuts and yet meet the increasing demands for technology by line departments in our governments. And we’ll continue to share our good ideas through organizations such as MIX, publications like Government Technology and Public CIO magazine, and blogs such as these on Digital Communities.

We won’t waste this crisis!

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Filed under government, green technology, MIX, Seattle Police, web 2.0

- Downtrends in City Tech

Assoc of City/County CIOs

Assoc of City/County CIOs

MIX, the Metropolitan Information Exchange, recently concluded our annual conference in Albuquerque. MIX is a group of about 55 CIOs of major cities and counties. The conference is always good, not just for its presentations, but particularly for the hallway and brainstorming conversations about issues and trends in local government information technology. In this blog I’ll highlight some of the 2009 “down” trends in local government, and in the next blog entry, later this week, I’ll write about the “up” trends.

Some trends or strategic directions seemed to be common to all our governments. These included the need for executive support and leadership, the desire of our cities and counties to be “high tech” to attract tech businesses for economic development, and the need for a voter ROI or “voter return on investment”.

The “voter ROI” is perhaps the most fascinating of these trends, although it is really not new – its always present in government. Voter ROI refers to the need for information technology projects to improve the operations of city government and to translate into votes at the ballot box for elected officials. Just as the ROI in a private business is measured by the profit of the company, the success of a government is measured by improved constituent/customer service, and THAT in turn is measured by the satisfaction in that government by voters who elect their mayors, county commissioners and city council members. Not every project has a voter ROI, but at least some of them must.

Executive support and leadership for IT projects is related to voter ROI. Strong Executive sponsorship is one of the two or three critical success factors in all IT projects everywhere, whether in government or private industry. As MIX members shared their success and failure project stories, we saw that a CFO who was interested and continually supporting a new financial management system, or a police chief supporting an upgraded radio system, or a City manager supporting a consolidation of IT staff, are the key factor in those projects’ success.

Some trends are downswing trends – initiatives or functions receiving less emphasis and less funding. These include budgets, staffing of IT units, disaster recovery, “big” projects, travel and training. Every local government has been hit by declining city/county revenues and consequent need to conserve and reduce.

Last Friday I presented the budget of my department – the Department of Information Technology at the City of Seattle, to the Seattle City Council. The video of that experience is online here, and the budget is online here. We’ll be reducing our $59 million budget by $3 million in 2010 and reducing our staffing by 12 full-time equivalent positions to 205 jobs.

Other local governments are experiencing similar difficulties. Steve Ferguson, the new CIO in San Jose, reports that City has experienced nine straight years of cuts and reductions, starting with the dot-com bust which hit Silicon Valley in 2001. Steve Reneker, CIO of Riverside reports his City cut its technology staffing from 72 to 55 people and scrapped a VoIP project. Joe Marcella in Las Vegas has reduced his IT shop from 100 staff to 72 since 2002, all by attrition, along with salary freezes for executives and most staff. Other MIX members have similar stories, especially in California and Arizona where government in general is in more dire circumstances.

Besides staff reductions, about half of the MIX members are freezing salaries (at least for management) and furloughing staff for 5 to 10 days a year, which is effectively a salary cut. Most of us are lengthening replacement cycles for desktop and server computers and network gear. We’ve renegotiated or are recompeting telecommunications and service contracts.

Particularly troubling are reductions in disaster planning. This is primarily due to simple lack of budget because disaster recovery is not an “immediate” need. Disaster planning is one of those extras you never need until, well, disaster strikes!

Budget crises are a logical time to consolidate IT in governments and save dollars through standardizing, and at least one of our cities, Tucson has done it and one large county is planning a consolidation. But MIX members are also concerned about “de facto decentralization”. As the resources and people of central IT departments are cut, service levels will drop, and the line departments (parks, utilities, police/sheriff, human services) tend to develop “shadow” technology support. Employees who should be doing policing or running community centers start doing technology support because they cannot get adequate support from the IT department. Individual employees or work units start buying their own cell phones or computers. Individually, such costs appear small, but those individual purchases don’t take advantage of the bulk buying power of a whole government, or the efficiencies of standardization.

In my next column I’ll talk about some of the technology trends which are on the “upswing” in local government, including public safety support, cloud computing, social media (blogging, twitter, facebook), the “greening of IT”, and with a new emphasis on online services, accountability and transparency.

P.S. I also have the honor of being President of MIX in 2009 – 2010.

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- MIXing Cities, Counties, Web 2.0

A Group of Local Government CIOs

MIX: A Group of Local Government CIOs

The Metropolitan Information Exchange (MIX), an association of City and County
CIOs, met in Seattle this week. MIX is a select group of 55 forward-thinking technology leaders. Their discussions about the future uses of technology in government have been quite enlightening.

For the most part, these are mid-sized cities and counties, almost all with populations of 100,000 or more. These Chief Information Officers (CIOs) share at least one passion: making information technology work in service to the government and people of their communities.

Many of these jurisdictions have award winning government websites – Las Vegas, Riverside, Wake County (North Carolina), King County (Washington) and Yuma County (Arizona) each were among the five top web portals in eRepublic’s 2008 competition. Others – such as Seattle and Tucson – have top municipal television channels.  Still others have cutting edge implementations of a wide variety of technologies, ranging from the 35,000-public-safety-radio network operated by Harris County (Texas) to the Second Life experiments of Nevada County (California) to the City-wide Wi-Fi network operated by Corpus Christi.

Web 2.0 was the subject of this conference. All of us working in government technology know Web 2.0 is leading edge. But Web 2.0 is really “icing” on our government technology “cakes”.

The core, first layer of IT in government is infrastructure – networks, computers, data centers. That infrastructure has to be rock solid and operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week because local government delivers service all day, every day.

The second layer of our “cake” is the applications, built upon the infrastructure, which provide efficiency and effectiveness for government. These applications include mapping, utility billing systems, financial management, computer-aided dispatch and many others.

The third layer of our IT “cake” is a wide variety of ways government employees and constituents use the technology to request and render services or provide information. These methods include interactive voice response systems, television channels and the websites of our jurisdictions.

Web 2.0 is the “icing” in one sense, because it is so leading edge (for government). In another sense, web 2.0 technologies are the essence of government. Web 2.0 is about collaboration. It is about social networks.  It is about building community.  And that – building community – is what government is all about – collaboration and making our communities stronger.

How are governments using Web 2.0 technology? I have a detailed set of examples here (and welcome feedback with more samples).  Some highlights:

  • Some elected officials are blogging, but only a few regularly write – Tim Burgess of Seattle and Walter Neary of Lakewood (Washington) are two examples.
  • Chicago Police is doing a great mashup and display of detailed crime statistics by address or ward, around schools and parks.
  • Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, is making extensive use of wikis to improve information sharing among county departments.
  • The Seattle Channel is doing podcasting and interactive television with its Ask-the-Mayor program for Mayor Greg Nickels – viewers can call or e-mail real-time and there are video-taped questions.
  • A very few governments have YouTube channels, e.g. Mountain View/Los
    Altos California, although constituent video of local government
    meetings appears to be a more popular use of YouTube, such as Somervell
    County, Texas.
  • Some cities and counties have Facebook or Myspace pages, e.g. Prince William County, Virginia, which uses MySpace for recruiting. MIX, itself, has a LinkedIn group.
  • But I’ve not seen local government effectively use social networking yet. Fertile ground for innovation!

In short, we in MIX – and other local government CIOs – are concentrating on keeping the core of information technology networks and systems running well in our governments.  And we are experimenting with a wide variety of Web 2.0 and similar technologies which we know will make government more collaborative and interactive.

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Filed under egovernment, eRepublic, future of technology, MIX, NATOA, seattle channel, web 2.0