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PTI Panel Talks Collaboration and Budget Shortfalls

Last week at PTI's 2010 Technology Solutions and Innovations Conference, a panel of local governments from the DC metropolitan area shared budgetary challenges and collaboration strategies that can help sustain advancement of government services in spite of tough times.

The panel titled, "Next Practices in the New Economy, Opportunities for Innovation and Collaboration," consisted of Montgomery County CIO Steven Emmanuel, Fairfax County CTO Wanda Gibson, Alexandria City Manager Jim Hartmann, and IBM Executive for Government and Education Business Analytics Robert Dole Jr.

Wanda Gibson spoke of the County's $650 million shortfall in their 2010 budget and how they shed $1 million in consulting engagements and 10 positions in the IT department to make ends meet. She praised the County's investment in infrastructure modernization beginning in the 1990's as enabling the County to make adjustments and be agile in economic down turns. She pointed out that Fairfax County's $60 million ERP project is a transformation in the way the County operates and not a replacement system.

Steven Emmanuel stressed that a fiscal downturn does not inhibit governments from at what needs to be done and suggested that collaboration was a strategy to skirt budgetary issues. Steven also pointed out that IT investments must be strategic, achieving a multiplicity of citizen facing results through a single implementation offering as examples ERP, 311, and social media.

Jim Hartmann shared a high level view stating that things have changed dramatically in the last couple years and that the revenues, attitudes, and boom of the early part of this century is not coming back to the DC region or elsewhere. He highlighted the levity of this situation with the expectation that Alexandria may get back to break even in 2014, but pointed out the opportunity for governments to recreate themselves for the future in these challenging times.

The government panel members not only share geographical proximity and similiar budgetary challenges, but also participation in the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG). Through this regional partnership and the National Capital Region Interoperability Program (NCRIP), the panel members have been working across government jurisdictions to improve the public safety of their citizens. They highlighted CAD to CAD pilot project as an example of accomplishing a goal collectively that could not have been attained individually. At this point in time, Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria CAD systems are able to talk to one another leading to more effective and rapid emergency response. The warm and fuzzy collaboration sentiments were tempered with the reality that this project was at least partially funded by Federal dollars and that without these monies it would have been much more difficult to bring to fruition.

All panel members agreed that governments cannot invest in technology that does not offer clear and immediate return on investment and offer data interoperability.

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