February 27, 2013 By Wayne Hanson
Howard County, Md., boasts a long list of honors, including one for best educated adults, another for having one of the best school systems in the nation, and still more for No. 1 in public library systems.
County Executive Ken Ulman isn’t resting on any laurels, however. He’s about to complete the Inter-County Broadband Network, which will connect nearly 1,000 city halls, fire and police departments, courthouses, colleges, libraries and schools.
Ulman and county CIO Ira Levy reached out to Howard County’s public-sector neighbors and applied for a grant. “We put together a consortium of 10 jurisdictions,” said Ulman, “including Baltimore City and County, Prince George’s County, Montgomery County — the largest counties in Maryland — and we brought in all of our CIOs.” As a result, the consortium won a $72 million grant for broadband rollout.
The network already allows schools to share IT solutions and connected 911 dispatch centers for mutual backup. As it developed, Ulman says the network formed a “public-sector cloud.” But the rollout didn’t stop there. “We are leasing out fiber to the private sector,” said Ulman, “because we go so deep into neighborhoods, by the nature of where the anchor institutions are located like elementary schools, fire stations and libraries. We don’t want lack of capacity to be a barrier to businesses growing and thriving in Maryland.”
Ulman, who calls Levy phenomenal, added, “You’ve got to have your CIO integrated into every significant decision, and then bring all the department heads on board with a consolidated focus.”
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.