Weathering the Downturn

Local government leaders share IT strategies at PTI session.

As an example of jurisdictions working together, look to the nation's capital area of Washington, D.C.

Speaking at the Public Technology Institute's recent 2010 Technology Solutions & Innovations conference in Washington, D.C., a panel of government leaders from the metropolitan area shared insight into tackling budget cuts with collaboration and different ways of doing business.

Moderated by PTI Executive Director Alan Shark, the conference session was dubbed Next Practices in the New Economy: Opportunities for Innovation and Collaboration. "In bad times come opportunities for change and innovation," Shark said.

Jim Hartmann, city manager of Alexandria, Va., noted that his city often works with neighboring Arlington and Fairfax counties in Virginia through the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

For example, neighboring communities benefit greatly from a data exchange hub for a CAD-to-CAD pilot program. The computer-aided dispatch systems in Fairfax County, Arlington County and Alexandria talk to each other in real time and dispatch the nearest available first responder. "The application can save 90 seconds on a dispatch call," Hartmann said of the radio CAD-to-CAD system. "Ninety seconds, when your house is burning or you're having a heart attack, can mean life or death."

Fairfax County hosts the data exchange hub and embraces the idea of regional interoperability to achieve common types of operations and save costs, said county CTO Wanda Gibson. She said Fairfax County's multimillion-dollar investment in CAD systems can save everyone money rather than having each community independently buy its own systems and cover the supporting network and carrier costs.

Like most local governments, Fairfax County has endured highly publicized budget cuts. "We have the belt tightened to the last hole," Gibson said. IT continues to focus on making the organization more nimble and getting rid of unnecessary work, and that all starts with the organization's strategic plan.

In Montgomery County, Md., said CIO E. Steven Emmanuel, the key to leading through fiscal challenges is to continue to demonstrate the value of IT to customers. "We need to be viewed as an innovator and way for business to grow," he said, citing projects such as CRM, 311 and social media. "The fiscal downturn doesn't inhibit you from looking at processes and making improvements," he advised.

Above all, cities and counties must demonstrate a business case for everything they do, noted PTI's Shark. Alexandria's Hartmann predicted the boom years everyone had come to enjoy won't come back soon. In fact, he said, Alexandria might not climb back to 2000 revenue levels until 2014. At the same time, "the tolerance for government to continue to raise taxes has waned."

His advice was to deeply consider IT decisions and show the return of any new investments. "It's not always money, but sometimes productivity, doing a better job or achieving a better outcome for citizens," Hartmann said.

Apr 01 2010