April 14, 2009 By Steve Towns, Editor
Four Questions for ...
Caren Skipworth, IT Director, Collin County, Texas
Collin County's Caren Skipworth was named Texas CIO of the year in January. One of her biggest accomplishments was building a multijurisdictional fiber communication network shared by Collin County, local community colleges and a handful of area cities.
Describe the shared fiber network.
We put in 124 miles of fiber that connected our county, the community college here, five of our largest cities and one of the ISDs [independent school districts]. We had a savings of about $1.3 million from the sharing of fiber that already existed in the ground.
It was a two-year project. We completed the last leg about [nine] months ago.
How do you use the network?
We have been using it for video arraignments for municipalities that have prisoners in our jail. We also use it to send confidential data from city police departments to our Homeland Security Department. We have plans for other uses too. We're working on a collaborative, common integrated justice project. It's a software implementation with 13 other counties - some of the largest in Texas. Collin County initiated the lead. I chair that committee, and we meet on a bimonthly basis. We went in, procured a system and saved millions of dollars in doing so. Not only in license costs, but we also share the modifications that help us save a lot of money with our counties.
How challenging are those shared projects?
The fiber project was excellent because it dealt with a lot of IT. When you hit the court systems [for the integrated justice project], you deal with a lot of independent, elected officials among 13 counties, so that's a challenge. Communication is obviously the big key, and also putting in an effective governance structure.
How will this effort evolve?
One challenge we have is continuing with our projects, with the resource limitations of the economy. But I still think we have a lot of collaboration to do. One of the big things I can see is expanding the fiber project so other counties can connect and maybe use shared disaster recovery resources.
This Digital Communities white paper highlights discussions with IT officials in four counties that have adopted shared services models. Our aim was to learn about the obstacles these governments have faced when it comes to shared services and what it takes to overcome those roadblocks. We also spoke with several members of the IT industry who have thought long and hard about these issues. The paper offers some best practices for shared government-to-government services, but also points out challenges that government and industry still must overcome before this model gains widespread adoption.