Contrary to popular belief, local governments do run themselves like businesses,
complete with revenues, expenditures and often a legal requirement for a balanced
budget. But unlike many businesses, state and local governments operate in a
fishbowl, where critics can be found for every new initiative and every decision
-- even when the decision is to maintain the status quo. Though saving
money is always the goal, the bottom line for local government is that it must
remain responsive and provide services to the public without undue cost to citizens
in terms of taxes or fees.
Despite working in an industry where rapid change is the norm, relatively few
county or municipal IT shops are on the bleeding edge. With funding flat, if
not decreased, it would be easy to dig in and wait for better times. But what
if this is the new reality, and the baseline has been reset by the economic
In times of crisis, danger is nearly always accompanied by opportunity. We
are weathering the danger part. Now may be the time to seek opportunity --
opportunity for risk.
Virtualization, cloud computing and thin clients provide government IT departments
with a variety of ways to save money, cope with reductions in staff and provide
for stronger continuity of operations. IT pros may also be tasked with finding
solutions to help other departments make up for staff reductions. Many organizations
would be more than willing to go through the pain of deploying automation and
using mobile access in the field if it meant they could maintain workloads.
Deploying new technologies and making them part of the new workplace culture
could also help everyone adjust to the new baseline.
Actions that better integrate how we work, communicate, share and collaborate
have the potential to make up for some of the lost capacity, and may also improve
responsiveness to citizens or to the agencies we serve internally.
Government IT leaders should also look to the future for opportunity. As the
Federal Communications Commission's pilot community for the DTV transition,
Wilmington, N.C., was the first city in the country to move to digital TV signals,
eight months prior to the national switch in June 2008. With this legacy of
willingness for being the test case, it's fitting that Wilmington is one
of the first communities to use the available airwaves to test TV white-space
technology for broadband data transmission.
Using an FCC experimental license, Spectrum Bridge and TV Band Services partnered
with the city of Wilmington, New Hanover County and the state of North Carolina
to run applications over this new breed of wireless technology. White-space
networks, with their ability to transmit over wider areas and propagate through
walls and other obstacles such as trees, could help government deploy operational
tools more efficiently and at less cost.
New smart-city or smart-grid technologies and applications may bring real changes
to how governments do business. Elevating TV white space from an experimental
to an approved use of spectrum could give cash-strapped governments the opportunity
The city of Wilmington, N.C., and New Hanover County are testing several
wireless applications on white-space networks, including:
- Traffic cameras that provide real-time traffic monitoring to reduce congestion
and respond to emergencies;
- Water-quality monitoring with wireless sensors placed in wetlands to give
officials a real-time gauge of environmental conditions;
- Surveillance cameras that can monitor a ball field and turn off the lights
after a soccer or baseball game, saving energy.