March 19, 2009 By Elaine Rundle
"Technology provides a service, and if it's effective, it's a right fit for your organization and it changes the way you do business, obviously, for the better," said Roy Mentkow, director of technology for Roanoke, Va.
With this outlook, Roanoke has been shaped into a technology leader, earning the title of Top Digital City six out of the last eight years for the 75,000 to 124,999 population category in the Center for Digital Government's Digital Cities survey.
Mentkow has been in the IT industry since 1981 and before that worked in every industry imaginable, he said. His first job with Roanoke was in public safety as a team lead, when Mentkow discovered he enjoyed providing a service more than making a profit.
Mentkow looks for creative and cost-effective IT solutions. When high gas prices in 2008 prompted more commuters to use the city bus system, the technology department added free Wi-Fi to two buses for around $100. He saw this as a moment of inspiration to aid the public.
"I always have the same goal -- and it's never-ending -- and that is to transform our environment with the effective use of technology," he said.
Other initiatives include a community Web portal, which contains a real estate and neighborhood search function. And it extends as a mobile portal, letting citizens access information from smartphones or laptops.
"The most important thing we believe here as a technology department, is that we're not in the technology business," Mentkow said. "We honestly, as a unit, accept that we are in the customer-service business. Our expertise is in technology, but we are here to service customers. We're problem-solvers."
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.