December 29, 2010 By Andy Opsahl
With municipal budgets flat indefinitely and demand for services growing, the solution may be a combination of two things that have frequently seemed undoable to veterans of local government: hosting applications offsite and sharing them with multiple local governments. Accepting those approaches can be legitimately scary for local governments, said Mike Garris, executive director of the Local Government Information Systems Association (LOGIS), a consortium of local governments in Minnesota.
“They have political constraints,” Garris said. “All of these cities have citizens and their county boards of commissioners or their city councils to address, and they want to do a good job in their communities.”
LOGIS is an offsite hosting organization that has enabled a continually growing number of municipalities to share applications since 1972. In the early days, the organization delivered applications through T1 phone lines. Now it uses fiber optics and the Internet. LOGIS membership provides software applications for payroll, GIS, property assessments and numerous other functions, without requiring on-site staff and server hardware. Members have access to top-tier software at lower prices than most governments could normally negotiate.
“We get in some very large players — Motorola, JD Edwards and that kind of thing,” Garris said.
A recent study commissioned by the group found that even small cities are saving at least $60,000 annually. Larger cities can save more than $140,000 per year, he said. The difficulty for cities and counties when they first join is that they must sync their application replacement cycles with LOGIS’ replacement cycles.
“For the benefit of the cost savings, you have to move with a consortium in terms of decisions and policies. That’s just not a cultural fit at some cities,” Garris said. “They want to have their own facilities, run their own show and have their own governance.”
However, budget crunches are changing those attitudes, rapidly, according to Garris. “It’s interesting,” he said. “We’re seeing entities that are joining the LOGIS that would have never done so in the past.”
All over the country, community leaders are looking to boost economic development through various initiatives. One key element in many of those initiatives is the use of information technology. When local governments build IT infrastructure, create e-government applications, assist high-tech startups or otherwise focus on technology, they create conditions that draw businesses to their communities and help retain skilled workers. This paper discusses and provides examples of these various ways local government can use technology to ultimately make a community more attractive to businesses, visitors and residents.