December 17, 2012 By Colin Wood
Since September, Cook County, Ill.'s new CIO, Lydia Murray, has taken the tech reins in the county, after former CIO Greg Wass left for a position as a senior adviser at the state governor's office.
Under the direction of Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, Murray has been in charge of financial reporting, revenue, email systems and the county's website, and has spent much of her time since being appointed working on several large projects and collaborative efforts with Chicago.
“Historically,” Murray said, “the city of Chicago and Cook County have not collaborated on much of anything. And it's ironic that both city hall and the county administrative offices actually share a building.” Murray said that relationship has changed in recent years, particularly since Mayor Rahm Emanuel took office last year.
Murray said her own past experience also helped foster an atmosphere of collaboration. Murray worked for the city of Chicago as deputy chief of staff and chaired the Information Technology Governing Board, which oversaw the approval of about $30 million in annual capital requests. She also served as chief of staff at the Chicago Transit Authority where she oversaw a nearly $2 billion budget. Murray also served the Civic Consulting Alliance (CCA) as project manager of city-county collaboration efforts that saved $34 million annually.
Before Dec. 25, Murray said, the county plans to connect Cook County Hospital with a high-speed fiber connection thanks to a joint project with the city and the Chicago Transit Authority. In 2013, the county's main court and jail facilities will also receive fiber connections.
Murray said she meets weekly with Chicago CIO Brett Goldstein, and the two agencies have pledged to keep each other in mind for all technology investments. The county and city have a shared strategy of using the best qualities of each government to identify how the two can work together to save money, she said.
Increased collaboration in Cook County comes at a time when the role of the CIO is changing everywhere. Echoing comments recently made by Palo Alto, Calif., CIO Jonathan Reichental, Murray pointed out that the CIO's new role is to enable smart technology investments. “I have definitely seen over the past decade ... where CIOs have moved more to getting vendors to provide things that are commodities,” she said.
The county now has several joint-procurements with the city in various stages of development, she said. Cook County, which has never had GPS tracking before, will piggyback on an upgrade now being undertaken by Chicago and receive a discount based on economy of scale. In other cases, Murray said, the county will be the project hub, such as in the case of future GIS upgrades. Part of the CIO's future role will be to identify what a county or what a city is good at and make upgrades playing to those strengths, she said.
*This story was updated on 12/19 to include Toni Preckwinkle's name.