Chicago's 311 center a magnet for tech execs

May 10, 2004


The City of Chicago's award winning 311 Center, which provides easy access for non-emergency city services, is the drawing card for a group of top public sector technology executives gathering here Wednesday.

"We're developing a 311 strategy, and have a huge focus on customer service," says Chris Moore, CIO for the city of Brampton in Canada. "Chicago has one of the leading customer centered approaches."

The timing couldn't be better for Mayor Daley and 311 Center director Ted O'Keefe. Last week, the center won a coveted Public Service Excellence Award from the Washington D.C.-based Public Employees Roundtable. The win comes on the heels of last year's Innovations in American Government Award presented by the Ash Institute at Harvard University and the Council for Excellence in Government.

"The 311 Center handled over 3.8 million calls last year, and tracked over 2 million requests for city services," says O'Keefe. It tackled requests for everything from graffiti removal and street light malfunctions to checking out the well-being of senior citizens. This year the center expects to handle more than 4 million inquiries.

In addition to offering Chicagoans a convenient way to contact the city for information and services, the 311 Center provides city managers with performance statistics to assure that problems are resolved on time and on budget.

"It's a great management information system," says Paul O'Connor, president of World Business Chicago, the city's public-private partnership guid- ing economic development. Through 311, city department heads "have the real-life information they need to manage. It shows the mayor's philosophy toward customer service. There's no city that's got anything like this."

This week's conference is hosted by the City of Chicago, Motorola, SBC and Harvard's Ash Institute. Technology executives from across the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom are expected. Visitors are "very excited about the opportunity to achieve what Chicago has accomplished," adds Motorola Vice President Steve Reed.

Aesop's approach to tech

Not all Chicago's successful tech leaders are under 40. Rick Forsythe, founder of Forsythe Technology, Inc. started with IBM in 1961 at the age of 21. He helped the company introduce its legendary IBM 360 mainframes.

In 1971 he launched his computer leasing company in a one-bedroom apartment at 1340 N. Astor. He's made a profit every year since.

Forsythe's advice for Chicago's post-Internet bubble entrepreneurs: "There's an old guy named Aesop who wrote a fable. Slow and steady wins the race. I'm using an old Greek's advice to run a modern-day tech company."

Following the turtle principle, Forsythe is evolving from a leasing company to an independent reseller of technology equipment and a technology consulting company. Forsythe has grown to 650 employees with 35 offices around the country. Though privately held, Forsythe publishes an annual report. Last year's sales were $444.3 million, with net earnings from continuing operations of $24.2 million.

Not all successful tech entrepreneurs go to Stanford or Harvard. A 1961 graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, For-sythe recently was inducted into his alma mater's Miami Academy of Entrepreneurs.

Unafraid of Google

Spencer Stuart partner Greg Welch hosted his annual chief marketing officer's summit last week at the Chicago Club. The program featured Cammie Dunaway, chief marketing officer of Yahoo!, and Carter Cast, senior vice president, Credit Chicago's Welch with placing Dunaway in her senior role at Yahoo!.

Dunaway's unafraid of Google. "Being a product of PepsiCo, I'm familiar with competition," Dunaway says. "Google is doing a lot of things right. What we have to do at Yahoo! is communicate we're much more than a search engine."

It could mean more Yahoo! kiosks like the pilot at Marshall Field's on State Street.

Bits & Bytes

Chicago's Steve Pazol, CEO of nPhase, a local company focusing on machine-to-machine technology, was named a "Top 10 M2M Pioneer" by M2M magazine.

Machine-to-machine technology is an emerging sector that, in its simplest form, will someday allow machines like your refrigerator to signal when they need maintenance.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago-based tech writer and consultant.


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners