Sharing and Protecting Technology

As a growing number of state and local governments share advice, applications and data, integrity remains critical to their success.

In today’s world of shrinking IT budgets and growing demands, why tackle technology challenges alone when you can collaborate? Government IT leaders throughout the nation have begun to subscribe to that line of thinking.

A growing number of state and local governments participate in technology consortiums to share advice on installing and using commercial software they purchase. Others have gone a step further and distribute open source custom applications that they’ve developed themselves.

It’s an emerging trend that makes sense. Cities, counties and states have common technology needs. By sharing resources and data, IT shops—and the agencies they support—don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time.

Take Henrico County in Virginia as an example. It recently created a dynamic Web site to help motorists avoid traffic accidents and other hazards. The county plans to share its concept with other municipalities, including Richmond, Va. “We saw this as something others could clone and share,” says Steven Lewis, Henrico County’s IT director.

However, collaboration can create intellectual property and data integrity issues that government IT leadership must iron out. Before King County, Wash., shares its custom software with other municipalities, CIO David Martinez requires a signed agreement ensuring that King County bears no liability if the organization can’t get the application to work. It’s a safeguard that numerous other government entities have put in place.

Massachusetts is another example. Peter Quinn, Massachusetts CIO, asked a team of legal experts to develop a toolkit to help mitigate the risks involved in using open source software. Massachusetts hopes to share a state-sponsored correctional application with other public sector facilities. But the state clearly places a priority on respecting the development work of software vendors. “We are a staunch defender of intellectual property,” says Quinn.

Whether building custom applications or customizing unique software application frameworks, state and local governments have options. They don’t have to create software from scratch.

And sharing doesn’t apply only to applications. Data has become a vital commodity for state and local governments, as well as for the federal government, which makes data integrity another key issue to tackle.

King County, for example, links its criminal justice systems with neighboring communities to improve public safety. Now, King County sheriff’s officers and law enforcement agencies in the region can look up an individual’s detailed criminal history, including booking dates, mug shots, last-known addresses, possible aliases and vehicles.

As Martinez notes, states can secure data transmission through encryption protocols, but preserving data integrity goes beyond technology. Government must implement rigid controls to limit access and set usage criteria.

Breaking down barriers between and within governments is an idea whose time has come, but it requires attention from government’s IT leadership. By pooling IT resources, brainpower and data, governments of all sizes will complete technology projects faster, improve employee productivity and departmental efficiency, and, ultimately, save taxpayers money.

Don’t let city, county and state lines—nor private and public sector relationships—stand in the way. Collaboration with integrity remains the key to creating better government and improving services to citizens.

Jim Shanks is a former CIO and the president of CDW Government Inc.

Oct 30 2006