Palm Beach County's motto, "The Best of Everything," is more than a mere slogan, as manifested by the quality of the Florida county's roads, parks, libraries, bus system, airport, water utilities and public safety programs.
The county's Information Systems Services also aspires to this level of excellence. Our story is unusual in the level of intergovernmental collaboration and entrepreneurship we're attempting to foster through shared services.
Palm Beach County is a midsize to large local government with a workforce exceeding 10,000, organized into more than 30 departments and agencies. ISS, the central IT agency, provides a broad array of IT services, including managing a network; developing customized software; and supporting servers, desktops and a Voice over IP system.
In the mid-1990s, the county embarked on building a fiber optic network. The network was originally used exclusively for county operations, but in 2006, ISS began exploring opportunities to connect other public-sector agencies to the county's network. This initiative began with the school board and has expanded to include other educational institutions, municipalities, countywide tax districts and nonprofit organizations. Shared network services is one area that is gaining momentum as public-sector organizations discover they can receive much greater bandwidth for Internet access and other applications at a substantially reduced cost.
Length of the Florida LambdaRail fiber network that traverses the state
This arrangement benefits all parties, especially the taxpayers, because it facilitates sharing the costs and capabilities of the county's broadband network in lieu of paying a commercial carrier for these services.
Palm Beach County was the first county in Florida to connect directly to the Florida LambdaRail backbone network for research, education and economic development. By becoming a member and plugging in to this high-bandwidth network, Palm Beach County acquires incredibly fast Internet service at a dramatically lower cost than commercial carriers offer. Our agreement designates Palm Beach County ISS as an aggregator of FLR services with rights to resell connectivity to other units of local government.
The FLR network also provides access to the Northwest Regional Data Center (NWRDC), a major disaster recovery site in Tallahassee. Last year, Palm Beach County entered into another first-of-its-kind agreement for rack space in the NWRDC, allowing ISS to back up data at a significant cost savings for the county and its customers.
Our customer base for shared network services is rapidly growing. So far, 27 agencies have executed interlocal agreements for network services, and we plan to connect 28 additional agencies.
Linking government organizations through high-speed networks creates opportunities for IT partnerships in other areas. One example is the agreement between the cities of Palm Beach Gardens and Jupiter to consolidate their emergency dispatch functions. It also enables us to offer other types of services, such as business applications, hosted services and document scanning.
ISS has built dozens of commercial-grade business applications on Microsoft .Net and an Oracle database, such as our paperless human resources system and our ePZB system for planning, zoning and building programs. The U.S. Virgin Islands purchased a customized hosted version of our business licensing system, and we are contracting to provide their e-mail and calendaring services.
Now, ISS is beginning a more vigorous marketing effort (www.pbcgov.com/iss/partnering), and we are excited by the prospect of sharing resources and saving dollars.