July 15, 2012 By Bill Schrier
Many county, city and state CIOs shudder, laugh and cry about consultants.
Here’s the lament: a large part of a CIO's job is to make both tactical and strategic recommendations regarding the use of information technology. These suggestions go to elected officials, line-of-business directors (utility superintendents, transportation directors, police and fire chiefs), and county/city councils. But those recommendations often fall on deaf ears.
And it's not just chief information officers who grouse about consultants – directors of other functions ranging from water utilities to police departments to parks and recreation folks often feel the same way about their recommendations for action about their businesses.
So, quite often, officials charged with making decisions turn to outside consultants, who are generally not familiar with the local situation, to swoop in, quickly study the issue, and make a recommendation. These reports from the outside consultant generally do not fall on deaf ears.
There are, quite often, good reasons to employ an outside consultant. Such consultants may have worked for many other governments (or private sector companies) across the nation, and therefore have experience and expertise they bring to bear on the problem at hand. They also may have a perspective not influenced (tainted?) by local pressures and politics. Good consultants also listen to the local experts (e.g. the CIO) before making their report.
But it can really be galling for a CIO who has recommended a certain course of action for a long time, and been ignored, to suddenly find her/himself charged with implementing that course of action, but only after the "outside consultant" recommended it.
Are there are alternatives to using the "outside consultant"?
I’m at the National Association of Counties (NACo) annual conference in Pittsburgh. Bert Jarreau, NACo CIO and his staff do a great job of organizing meetings to allow elected officials and CIOs to talk about issues just like this one. During these meetings, a couple of alternatives have surfaced.
One alternative, employed by counties in Iowa, is "tiger teams". Iowa has 99 counties, many of them quite small with correspondingly tiny technology resources. The Iowa Association of Counties has organized teams of IT professionals from counties who are able to come into another county, study the business and technology situation, and recommend solutions and courses of action based on their own experience in their own county elsewhere in the state.
It might be possible to expand this "tiger team" concept on a broader scale, to cities and counties elsewhere in the nation. That would, however, require a fairly robust collaboration tool which allows cities and counties to share issues and ideas with each other (note: eRepublic’s Digital Communities offers several such collaboratives here.)
Another alternative is being advanced by NACo itself and Phil Bertolini, Deputy County Executive and CIO in Oakland County, Michigan. They are building an "applications catalog" (actually called the NACo Applications Store, but "catalog" is a better description).
In this catalog, Phil and other County CIOs are hoping to build a list of applications which counties use, have to share, and need to replace. In this fashion, individual counties facing an issue like the need to replace a finance system or a court case management system can quickly see what other counties are doing, and seek advice and support from them.
Will these alternatives work? Can they also be applied to cities, states and other local jurisdictions? Do you have other alternatives to using outside consultants?
Time will tell, and we’ll probably see results at the next NACo conference!
July 8, 2012 By Bill Schrier
Do City, County and State government CIOs have a responsibility to be "cheerleaders" for their jurisdictions for economic development of the community?
I think so.
We CIOs have talked about "aligning information technology with the business" of government and “customer service” to other departments. Those are still important, although, increasingly, CIOs are contracting a lot of the actual “doing” of technology to software-as-a-service and other cloud providers.
But most elected officials have little interest in internal information technology functions, However virtually every one believes that bringing new business to their community – or growing it – is the key to improving the overall quality of life. New businesses bring new jobs. Governments prize technology businesses, especially, because they are "cool", generally "green" and also bring high-paying jobs. Look on the websites of any number of cities and counties for economic development goals, and you’ll see emulation of Silicon Valley.
The governments’ CIOs are the technology experts within each government. Where better to get the expertise to help entice or grow such high-tech businesses?
Seattle recently sponsored a "Startup Weekend – Government Edition". Startup Weekend is a non-profit company which has sponsored more than 500 such weekends across the globe. The idea is simple: bring entrepreneurs together to generate new ideas for businesses in the community. The new ideas don’t have to involve tech. They could be new foods (Super Marmite) or Foodspotting which finds great dishes, not great restaurants or Zaarly, a service-finder-service which does cool things like finding someone to bring flowers to your girlfriend or clean your house).
Startup Weekend – Government Edition, was the first-ever Startup Weekend event focused on Government. It came about under the leadership of the City of Seattle’s Sabra Schneider, who oversees the City’s web team, community technology and Seattle Channel. Sabra partnered with Marina Martin of a City advisory panel, the Citizens Technology and Telecommunications Advisory Board, as well as Zach Cohn of the Startup Weekend folks and Wil Saunders of the State of Washington's Department of Commerce.
During the weekend, we looked for cool applications which used open data available on the City of Seattle, King County and State of Washington Open Data sites. We got a number of cool ideas, and those are being further developed in the Evergreen Apps Competition, which has over $50,000 in prizes. Judging and winners will occur in September, so there’s still time to get in on the action.
Besides Startup Weekends, City, County and State CIOs can take many other steps to help their elected officials.
Steve Reneker, CIO of Riverside, California, has helped transform his City into a high-tech mecca not just for the United States, but worldwide. Riverside was recently recognized as the first U. S. City in ten years to receive the "Intelligent City of the Year" award.
Chief Innovation Officers are sprouting as well, both to transform their governments internally and to foster economic development. Bryan Sivak in Maryland (just named as the CIO for the federal Department of Health and Human Services), Adel Ebeid in Philadelphia, and John Tolva in Chicago wear this sort of hat.
But I believe every CIO has a bit of the entrepreneur in her/his blood. After all, we run businesses internal to our governments, balancing profit and loss, constantly innovating, constantly doing customer support for the other functions in government.
So being a "cheerleader" for economic development in the wider community should be a natural progression for most of us.
Postscript: In this blog post I talk about CIOs or Chief Information Officers as cheerleaders, yet I did not mention my role, when I was CTO/CIO at the City of Seattle, in Startup Weekend Government Edition. Essentially, I got out of the way, and encouraged Sabra Schneider, Marina Martin and CTTAB to move forward with it. Quite often leadership is simply giving good people the running room and support to bring a great idea to fruition. That's what happened here.
July 1, 2012 By Bill Schrier
Friday, June 29th was the second and final day of the National Governors’ Association sponsored meeting of chief information officers (CIOs), statewide interoperability coordinators (SWICs) and other government officials from 49 states and territories. We’re discussing the States’ role in building the new Nationwide Public Safety wireless Broadband Network (NPSBN). The First Responder Network Authority (FirstNet), an independent agency inside the federal government, will be responsible for the planning, procurement and spending up to $7 billion to create the network. But FirstNet won't be constituted until August, 2012. (Note: I blogged about the first day of this event in FirstNet: Cats and Dogs Living Together).
Friday we heard from Stacey Black of AT&T, Don Brittingham of Verizon and Rishi Bashkar of Motorola. Each of those companies have practical, on-the-ground, experience building these 4th generation, long-term-evolution (LTE) networks. And their advice: basically LTE is a "horse of a different color" from our traditional public safety voice land-mobile-radio (LMR) networks.
Here are some specifics they talked about based upon their experience:
All in all, great lessons from three partners who have "been there, done that, got the Tee Shirt" in constructing 4G wireless networks.
The question is - will FirstNet and its local, state and federal partners - heed those lessons?
June 28, 2012 By Bill Schrier
I’m attending the “Preparing for Public Safety Broadband” workshop hosted by the National Governors’ Association outside of Washington DC today. We’re discussing the States’ (and cities and counties) role in constructing the Nationwide Public Safety wireless Broadband Network (NPSBN), authorized by Congress in February and funded with $7 billion from sale of spectrum. More background on the network is here.
This workshop has about 200 participants with 49 states are represented and quite a number of chief information officers, but also police chiefs, fire chiefs and coordinators of the more traditional statewide land-mobile radio networks used by responders.
Chuck Dowd, Deputy Chief of Communications for NYPD talked on a panel about how remarkable this is – that Mayors and Governors, police chiefs and fire chiefs, agree on the importance of this network. And they all worked together with the Obama Administration and Congress to get the Spectrum Act passed earlier this year.
But, in many senses, the most difficult part of constructing the NPSBN is still ahead. Mistrust between government agencies and functions are historically rampant. The budget crisis of the Great Recession has exacerbated his mistrust, as every agency’s budget has been squeezed.
States don’t trust City and County governments, who may have only their own individual interests in mind. Rural areas don’t trust urban areas. Departments within State governments don’t trust each other – every department often has its own computer servers and applications and even email systems. Cities and counties, in turn, mistrust their States who, they feel, are always trying to take money and dictate unfunded mandates.
Individual government departments have often built their own networks for communications. Transportation departments have their fiber and wireless voice networks separate from State police separate from Natural Resources and often separate from the State’s information technology departments. And in most states, cities, counties and local agencies have usually built their own voice networks for public safety separate from the State’s. Often local agencies even have multiple networks on their own – transit and transportation and public safety and public works. In some locations, even police and fire departments have separate networks because of historical animosities between those responders. Agencies mistrust each other for many reasons – utilities resent that public safety has priority access to spectrum and higher priority on joint networks. Information technology departments are often seen as the “department of NO”, with high rates and poor customer service – “call the help desk and open a ticket”.
And everyone in State and local agencies mistrusts the Federal government. There is some fear FirstNet will build a network with minimum consultation, in a top down fashion.
Everyone at this conference agrees: if this mistrust continues, the NPSBN is doomed. CIOs must recognize the progress made by statewide interoperability coordinators (SWICs) to advance coordination of communications networks. SWICs and traditional “radio guys” need to recognize the expertise of CIOs in building and operating large-scale infrastructure and supporting all responders with technology.
Cops and firefighters recognize their co-dependence, especially after the disaster of 9-11 where police received the order to evacuate but firefighters did not. Now public safety officials must acknowledge the responder role of electric and water utilities, transportation and transit. It’s hard to fight fires without water; it’s hard to evacuate before hurricanes without transportation.
State governments need to recognize that most 911 calls are handled by cities and counties. But cities and counties must acknowledge that they need resources from across a state to respond to even small disasters like a windstorm or riot.
The federal Department of Commerce needs to understand FirstNet cannot build this network without public-public partnerships - cities, counties, states and federal agencies, all who bring assets such as radio sites and fiber networks to reduce the cost of construction. And all the government officials need to acknowledge we will need private-public partnerships with telecommunications companies and other private companies to use their sites and build the applications to make the network a reality.
We need to recognize where the dollars are coming from – they are not coming from the Federal government, but, rather, from private industry buying spectrum and consumers and businesses who buy cell phone service. These funds are “our” funds, not “theirs”.
Finally, everyone involved needs to recognize the good intentions and leadership of the National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA), charged to stand up FirstNet. They’ve said they will collaborate with local and state governments. Let’s take them at their word and move forward together.
Yes, cats and dogs will be living together. And, amazingly, they might build a true nationwide interoperable wireless network for all responders.
June 15, 2012 By Bill Schrier
This week ICANN announced they had received 1930 applications for new top-level Internet domains.
ICANN is the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, usually pronounced “I can” and with no direct relationship to “Yes We Can”.
Today the Internet has just 22 such domains, including the familiar dot-com and dot-gov (which we all know and love). ICANN knew more were needed, especially non-English ones and some using non-Latin characters. So, for a mere $185,000 each, anyone was invited to apply for new domains, with no guarantee they’d be granted. The full list is here, and includes a number of familiar and quite a few unique proposals.
For city names, ICANN rules specified the City government had to at least acquiesce to the application. There are just a few proposals for City names, such as dot-NYC, dot-Boston, dot-Miami and dot-Vegas, plus some overseas ones such as dot-Paris (which could, I suppose, be contested by Paris, Kentucky). And only one of the United States applications appears to be from an official City government, dot-NYC. See more details on this at Government Technology news here.
Do cities really need their own domain names?
The City of Seattle was approached by at least one company seeking to apply for dot-Seattle. Their proposal was, basically, to put up the cash for the application, and then manage the sale of the names, presumably to individuals and companies who wanted the brand, such as microsoft.seattle or schrier.seattle . The City would receive a portion of any income beyond the cost to administer the domain name.
We didn’t pursue the opportunity for several reasons. Chiefly, I didn’t see how anyone would want to type microsoft.seattle when microsoft.com was shorter and easier. How much would Microsoft pay for that domain?
This logic would definitely be true for individuals or small business as well. Certainly some businesses might want a dot-seattle brand, but would there be $185,000 of such sales?
Furthermore, in order to pursue this, the City of Seattle really would have to issue an RFP and give other companies an opportunity to manage dot-seattle for us.
Hey, RFP’s are a lot of work.
Do Cities need their own domain names? Well, even at $185,000 plus management costs, dot-NYC makes sense. Maybe dot-Vegas will work. Dot-minneapolis or dot-wallawalla ? Naw, I don’t think so.
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.