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Cities' Tech Challenge: Overcoming the `Communication and Vision Gap'.

The author attended NLC's Leadership Training Institute technology training at the IBM campus.

Changes in information technology are happening quickly. One huge issue is Internet and most city governments have recognized its significance. Internet is a major communication tool that can reach thousands of people at a time when it is difficult to get four people to a public meeting.

It has become a way of doing business from investing city funds to accessing HUD reporting forms. Done correctly, a city web site can be an economic development tool to facilitate marketing businesses and the community. E-commerce (buying and selling over the Net) has created new possibilities for improving customer service and the productivity and efficiency of employees. However, having a dynamic presence on the Web is a complex challenge.

How do cities transition into information-based organizations, maximizing the value of turbo technology? Organizations cannot move ahead on the continuum of technology just because it's out there. This is especially true for city governments, whose accountability is under the watchful eye of local taxpayers. The task, and the associated decisions, can be perplexing. What criteria do you establish for your city web site? Who develops and keeps it current? How do you deal with employees who discover the joys of surfing the Internet at work? What forms or payment services do you put on-line? Do you have the people and processes in place to support the responses? What hardware, software and connectivity -- and security -- do you need to support continued expansion? What if you invest big bucks and nobody uses your digital service? How do you address public policy issues and the role of elected officials?

The National League of Cities, whose mission is to "strengthen and promote cities as centers of opportunity, leadership and governance; was doing just that recently when they partnered with IBM to sponsor a "Local Government Leadership Institute."

The conference, which provided practical ways for cities to answer e-government questions, was held at the IBM Advanced Business Institute at Palisades, New York. IBM is still practicing TQM, as quality abounded in both the facilities and the training and facilitation.

The participants at the conference included city council members, city managers, IT directors and department directors responsible for e-government decisions and management. The format was a mix of presentations and, as one instructor described, "robust" discussion. So participants gained insight into Web technology and opportunities of e-business and also had the opportunity to share actions and opinions with other city officials.

We were given demonstrations of new and projected technology, which was quite interesting. All through the conference, the instructors provided frameworks and business models, using case studies as illustrations. This approach assisted in establishing some order to the confusion often associated with the fast speed and new ramifications of Web technology. One reassuring fact we learned is that most organizations are following the same path toward e-business: 1. get information on the Web; 2. integrate the Web with your business systems; and 3. transform the way you conduct business. Most of us are working in areas two and three, so it was helpful to learn a number of critical success factors to consider as we progress, as well as essential questions to answer and steps to follow before we jump further into cyberspace.

Since we had personal computers and Internet connections in our rooms, we, of course, were given homework assignments. The exercise was an especially enlightening way to review how easily outside people are accessing your own community and what information they are getting. Again, we had new ideas to take home.

A big problem organizations must overcome is the communication and vision gaps between users and technicians. One of the most beneficial tools we were given during the conference was a "Strategic Alignment Model," which is a framework for linking IT and business strategies, as well as organization and IT infrastructure and processes. After a review of the 12 components of the alignment model, we completed an electronic assessment of our own cities and even got an explanation of what it all meant.

This was an excellent and timely conference and I know all the participants went home with some specific tools and greater confidence in their abilities to make wise decisions for their communities regarding IT development and e-government. City officials have a keen interest in effectively using information to improve city government performance, better serving the needs of constituents, and realizing highest value from IT investments. I commend the National League of Cities for sponsoring this conference and hope they will continue their progressive support of local officials in these efforts.

Susan Cable is director of Communications and Quality Management, city of Corpus Christi, Tex.
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Title Annotation:conference addresses cities' use of technology
Author:Cable, Susan
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 5, 2000
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