Government isn't always behind the curve

April 15, 2002

BY MICHAEL KRAUSS

Chris Moore just popped through Chicago. So did Andrew Pinder.

Moore is the CIO of Brampton, a city of 345,000 in Ontario, not far from Toronto. Pinder is British Prime Minister Tony Blair's eEnvoy, the top technology advocate for the English government.

Pinder is striving to expand Internet access and broadband penetration across the United Kingdom and to get the government online. His office has been running an extensive advertising effort to increase awareness and use of the Internet as a channel to access government services. Pinder thinks digital television is the key for access, and he's keen on providing educational services and training to the British populace through that route.

Moore boasts of a mayor in Brampton who thrice daily joins online chat rooms to communicate with constituents -- especially younger voters. His town is the headquarters burg for telecom equipment maker Nortel, though he admits to having a lot of Cisco routers in place. Moore says Brampton connected its neighborhoods in the mid-'90s with a fiber optic backbone. Today, he's focused on wireless applications that can make government workers more efficient.

Both are practical-minded technology executives who've done prior stints in government service and in the commercial sector, and are now committed to making a difference for their communities. Moore comes from a Big Five consulting firm and Pinder was one of the top European technology executives at Citibank.

And they're not alone. Here in the United States sophisticated technology executives and projects are in place on the local, national and federal level. In Chicago, where I live, Mayor Richard M. Daley has committed to CivicNet, a citywide broadband initiative to provide high-speed access to neighborhoods. Chris O'Brien, our city's CIO, is a former technology strategist from Index Systems with a full plate of practical programs.

In conversations with Moore, Pinder and O'Brien I got a new sense of what is possible. And, I discovered quickly that these government technology leaders are apt marketers -- looking forward but keeping expectations firmly rooted in the ground. They don't promise more than they can deliver, but they are clearly pointed in the right direction.

Pinder, with the United Kingdom's L 100 million, three-year campaign to accelerate the rollout of broadband and raise awareness of the Internet, is using traditional marketing tactics to achieve his end.

In Brampton, Moore is focused on both thinking and doing. His list of initiatives is strikingly similar to a private sector CIO, plus there are the added responsibilities unique to government. Here is just a sampling of some of his programs:

  • Customer strategy -- Moore's at the front end of a program to better understand customer needs and to define IT projects and applications that meet those needs. He sees the individual citizen of the community as his customer, not simply his mayor and the city departments (though they count, too).
  • Information plan -- He's studied the information requirements of all his government units and defined a technology architecture to assure efficient and timely delivery of relevant information.
  • Performance metrics -- Moore's looking at new ways to integrate data to assure city services are performing. Thanks to Global Positioning Satellite-based technology, he now knows where city vehicles are located in real time. He plans to integrate this information with his other systems to monitor service effectiveness.
  • Buying efficiencies -- He's pooling his purchases to gain leverage in hardware, software and services procurements.
  • Connecting gold-collar workers -- Moore's evaluating wireless access devices to give field-based city workers better information. He believes many mid-level city workers who don't have offices, building department inspectors, transit workers, sanitation supervisors and health services personnel would benefit from links beyond pay phones and cell phones.
  • Information platforms -- Moore sees city buses as potential information platforms.
  • Triple-win recreational programs -- Moore sees himself as CIO for the community. While effective emergency services are a critical priority, he sees high consumer demand for effective non-emergency services. He's on the lookout for packaged applications and outsourced services that can be triple wins: for example, a program that improves awareness and access to parks and recreational programs that can be operated behind-the-scenes by a third party and earns the city reasonable revenues.

Meanwhile, O'Brien and the City of Chicago are bundling $ 31 million worth of annual telecommunications expenditures from the police and fire departments, schools, libraries and other city institutions. Their first aim is cost efficiency; like his commercial counterparts, O'Brien and his colleagues are bundling the procurement to get a lower price. But their second goal is to use their procurement as a carrot to entice a major telecom provider to invest in a fiber optic backbone that will connect underserved city neighborhoods.

Across the Atlantic, Pinder is committed to enabling "100% of the dealings with government to be available electronically by 2005." Increasing the number of transactions that can be accomplished online is a common theme among these senior IT executives.

What's my takeaway from all of this? Seems to me we commercial marketers can learn something from our technology counterparts in government. In Pinder, Moore and O'Brien, I see a group of technology leaders with more challenging and complex roles than their private sector counterparts.

On average, they're paid less and have fewer resources to work with, yet, they're undaunted and leading the way with innovative services. Whether they succeed or fail -- and I bet they'll succeed -- they're an impressive group to watch.

Michael Krauss is a partner with Chicago-based DiamondCluster International. He can be reached at michael.krauss@diamondcluster.com or news@ama.org.

 


 

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