January 9, 2012 By Wayne Hanson
In 2005, CIO Dan Rainey, newly on board in Ann Arbor, Mich., met Washtenaw County, Mich., CIO David Behen, who last year became Michigan’s state CIO. “During our first meeting,” said Rainey, “one of the things Dave brought to my attention was that we’re a block apart in location, we both run data centers, we both have IT staff — why aren’t we doing more together?”
Later, Washtenaw County’s administrative building was flooded. Officials begin looking at building a new data center. “And that was the opportunity,” said Rainey. In spring 2009 the city and county co-located their data centers. “Not long after that we built a new justice center,” said Rainey, “and as part of that new building, there was a space for including a new data center — raised floor, air conditioners, [uninterruptible power supply]: The things you really need to have in a modern data center. That’s when we moved everything together into this new data center.”
The data center is now physically managed by the city, but the county has full access to it. The arrangement has opened additional opportunities for shared services.
“We share a storage area network,” said Rainey. “We share an enterprise backup environment, Internet connectivity, enterprise content management system and GIS environment. We’re still operating as separate departments, but we’ve partnered on a lot of initiatives where it made sense. We put together an interagency agreement that spells that out. And when we wrote this agreement, we purposely used terms like ‘participant,’ so it’s open to any local unit in the county that wants to participate. And they’re not making a commitment to anything beyond, ‘We’re part of the conversation.’”
There are subscribers and providers, said Rainey. “The county is the provider on the SAN, and the city is the subscriber. The county leases it and we pay them for our half of it every year.” So the city might make a three-year commitment. But Rainey said jurisdictions should make sure they can do that type of leasing model before attempting it. For certain types of investments, like a storage area network or a large backup environment, you need to make sure you have both organizations agreeing to the financial commitment beforehand, he said. If one of the stakeholders refuses to appropriate funds, that could be a problem.
“If I want to be a provider of a service,” said Rainey, “I will approach the other participants and say ‘Hey, we have this new system we think we want to make available to other interested local units. Who’s interested?’ Then when they sign on as subscribers, we’ll talk about the terms around that specific service: the length of it, the cost for it, service levels around availability, who’s responsible for what — how you get out of it if you want to get out of it.
“The No. 1 rule,” said Rainey, “is to have an exit plan. You need an understanding of how you get into an agreement and how you get out of it. What are those expectations?
“Right now we have three agencies that are part of this interagency agreement: the city of Ann Arbor, Washtenaw County, and the Ann Arbor Transportation Authority. So the three IT directors of those agencies meet monthly and go over how the services are working out. Are there issues or new needs? And what are we all working on? So we share our high-level plans too. If I think I might want to buy an intrusion detection service, I might ask, ‘I’m looking at this, is there anybody that would like to look at the same thing?’”
The partners are also coordinating on larger issues, like a Windows 7 rollout, application virtualization and more.
“Together, the arrangement saved a lot of money," said Rainey. “Washtenaw County was looking to build a new data center, and that was a $2 million capital project that they didn’t have budgeted anywhere. So that cost was avoided. And then, on the storage area networks there’s a cost just to bring in a platform and incremental cost to add more storage to it, so it saved us a good $300,000 just on SAN and the backup platform because we collaborated instead of [Ann Arbor] and the county buying their own.
“We have informal agreements to provide backups to each other and the equipment’s all in one data center. So where we each have a single resource that has expertise, we’ll learn each other’s systems — like in our backup environment. We each administer our own backups, but the county person can go on vacation now because [the city’s] staff will watch. People would go on vacation, but they’d get called and hunted down; now that doesn’t happen, so it’s provided some relief.”
Another opportunity occurred with content management. “We partnered with Hyland Software, which makes OnBase,” said Rainey, “an enterprise content management system. The county had that — they purchased OnBase probably in 2007 — and the city decided it was going to use that same product.” So Ann Arbor used the county’s same RFP, the same integrator, and worked with Hyland. The company licensed the city and gave the city essentially free access to the county’s infrastructure. All Ann Arbor had to pay for was additional seats that were procured. “That saved me at least a half million dollars in the last 18 months,” Rainey said. “Because if you’re going to do
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.