August 12, 2013 By Sarah Rich
Omaha and Douglas County, Neb., join forces on all major IT projects. Through their unique partnership, the city and county jointly decided last month to deploy Google Apps for Government for email and calendaring services.
The city and county have centralized IT management, which means IT services are deployed to 5,000 city and county employees across more than 70 departments.
All IT staff work under a third-party government subdivision called the Douglas Omaha Technology Commission (DOTComm), governed by a seven-member oversight committee.
Derek Kruse, DOTComm’s CIO, said Omaha and Douglas County are currently operating on a decade-old legacy system for email and other applications. Instead of upgrading the existing, on-premises system, the city and county selected Google Apps for its cloud flexibility.
Using a staged approach, the commission will migrate to Google’s full email and collaboration suite starting this fall.
“All we have are email and calendar features right now,” Kruse said. “We have no instant messaging; no collaboration; none of those tools.”
Upgrading the existing system would have cost millions of dollars upfront, Kruse said, while deploying Google’s suite of applications allows the commission to subscribe to the service and pay for it over time. According to Google, their Apps for Government service typically costs about $5 a month per employee.
DOTComm's decision to move forward with Google was officially announced on a Google blog post, written by Kruse.
Kruse said cities and counties interested in working together on shared IT projects should start by discussing a shared project that is limited in scope, like a permitting application or a shared official website.
Outside consultants, like the Oversight Commission’s seventh member, are also beneficial when collaborating like Omaha and Douglas County. The consultative approach helps ensure the two municipalities are making the right decisions that put the city and county on equal ground, Kruse said.
But two entities teaming up for one project does have its challenges. Kruse said the neutral commission member, a community member with IT experience, helps by casting a “deciding vote” when needed. Even with a neutral member on board, Kruse said, it can be challenging to to advance dual goals of collaboration and innovation.
“It’s a lot of hard work to make sure we’re hearing the voice of the city and the county – to make sure they’re getting their fair share of IT services,” Kruse said. “And it’s an ongoing process that’s never going to be done.”
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.