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Culture is key : Creating a collaborative government

This article appears in the issue April 2004 (100 Companies) [Volume 13, Issue 4]


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By Vicki Powers

Several local and state agencies in California, New York and Colorado illustrate how sharing information through knowledge management initiatives can help government thrive. After moving beyond the silo mentality to establish a culture of communication and then to implement appropriate technologies, these government entities prove the benefits of sharing information internally and externally.

Nevada County

How can a small California county of 95,000 people develop a comprehensive community government portal? Much of the success experienced by Nevada County, Calif., relates to its internal resources as well as to a learned culture of sharing.

"We have a forward-thinking CEO who views technology as a means to change the organization and move it forward as a catalyst," says Steve Monaghan, Nevada County's chief information officer. "We've been aggressive and progressive with our implementation of technology."

Five years ago, the 28 departments in the county used different systems to store, organize and retrieve information. As more and more departments wanted to update their archaic legacy systems, the IS department developed an integrated strategy using a document management system for all county information.

The department selected Xerox's DocuShare as a Web-based, enterprisewide content and document management system. The solution linked the county's new public online information project—a county Web site using Affino Content Management System from Emojo—with its internal needs as well.

The solution needed more assistance than technology alone—it required new ideas about information sharing. As in most government agencies, employees operated in a silo mentality and didn't want to move beyond their boundaries.

"Technology is a catalyst that helps you cross those silos, but you have to attack those issues from more of an organizational development perspective than a technology perspective," Monaghan says.

In response, Nevada County's IS group created an IT Governance Model that encouraged people to work across communities of interest, with similar departments doing similar activities to work together and share information.

The response has proven positive. County employees collaborate through DocuShare, which has become a successful repository for their information and knowledge. Today, employees refer to the system during project meetings, and project teams use the portal to create communities of practice around their specific topics. Those individual sites contain minutes, training materials, agendas and other resources to support their groups.

Even helps curb pollution

The numbers speak for themselves. Nevada County's community portal, which primarily benefits the 80% of residents with Internet availability, is accessed approximately 6,600 times each day. It stores more than 70,000 documents of which 10% are available to the public. The greatest benefit of the community portal, according to Monaghan, is service to citizens.

"It's made thousands of documents available to the public," Monaghan says. "This robust citizen portal helps people find the services they need and keeps them from having to drive into the government centers."

In fact, detailed tracking over 18 months revealed that the Web portal eliminated 65,000 round-trips for citizens who could find their forms and information online. It also reduced driving in the county by nearly 3 million miles each year. All of that contributes to saving more than seven tons of auto emissions in the air annually, which is especially important in California.

Why is this type of solution critical for government? Statistics from the document management industry, according to Monaghan, say the average knowledge worker spends 2.5 hours per day looking for documents.

"Probably 80 percent of our employees are now knowledge workers processing information," Monaghan says. "We have to be able to easily turn information around when we get those requests."

Breaking down walls

The Division of Municipal Affairs, a part of New York's Office of the State Comptroller (OSC), redefined its approach to working with municipalities and employees several years ago. The division monitors the financial operations of more than 3,000 local governments in New York. With eight geographical locations in New York at the time (11 today) and employees in the field, the department needed a single repository to gather, organize, retrieve and distribute information to deliver consistent services to municipalities.

"Technology doesn't really solve business problems," says Michele Hasso, director of MACROS Strategic Services in the Division of Municipal Affairs. "You need to look at the processes ahead of time to see if they need improvement before looking at the technology."

As a result, OSC responded to the Center for Technology in Government's (CTG, ctu.albany.edu) call for involvement in a two-year project called "Using Information in Government Program." The CTG exists as a research center to improve government and public services through management policy and technology innovation. Its study focused on helping seven state and local agencies in New York make better use of information to meet their responsibilities. One part of the study looked at barriers to information sharing, which proved a concern in the Office of the State Comptroller—just as in the majority of other government agencies.

"There are a lot of barriers to implementing a system like this," Hasso says. "People don't tend to look across the organization as a whole to share. They just look at what they need in their own job. It was hard at the operating level to convince people of the value of putting information in. They are starting to realize the benefits now."

New York's Office of the State Comptroller determined its solution based on CTG's analysis work. Dubbed the Municipal Affairs Contact Repository Operating System (MACROS), the solution provides employees with desktop and remote access to critical information about the municipalities it supports. Since its implementation in late 2001, it has grown to include 50,000. The Municipal Affairs group selected ComputerWorks' InterTrac, an enterprisewide collaboration and information management tool designed specifically for government agencies.

The Division of Municipal Affairs received support from top management, who ultimately cleared hurdles to get funding. "Top management loved it and grasped the idea right away," Hasso explains.

"Now we're working across divisions, which is really a neat thing," Hasso adds. "It's more of a cultural change. Everyone uses MACROS in the OSC in one form or another."

Improving public safety in Colorado

In 1998, Colorado was the first state to implement an integrated criminal justice system, called the Colorado Integrated Criminal Justice Information System (CICJIS). Just recently and by gradually adding functionality, the state completed the 60 project deliverables defined at the start of the implementation six years ago.

"Historically, it's hard for any state to begin such an endeavor without full commitment from each of the players," explains Theresa Brandorff, CIO at CICJIS. "I think Colorado is successful because the Legislature was the body pushing it, and it was something that everybody bought into, sacrificed to create and had a vested interest in making it succeed."

The integrated justice system links five state-level criminal justice agencies—law enforcement, courts, prosecution, adult corrections and juvenile corrections. It tracks offenders through the criminal justice system from arrest to incarceration. The virtual database, however, is not a statewide data warehouse, like other states are modeling for their integrated justice systems. Rather, CICJIS accesses the data from five separate systems. Sybase's Enterprise Connect middleware tools link each system to a central machine that views each machine as if it was local.

Agencies have two ways to share information through CICJIS. One is through event-triggered data transfers, such as being fingerprinted or committing a felony incident. That information automatically transfers to one or many destinations from that law enforcement source. A fingerprinting, for example, automatically transfers arrest information to the courts and prosecutors. All of that eliminates redundant data entry that occurred prior to CICJIS.

Another sharing feature is providing access to queries on the remote systems. In 2004, CICJIS implemented browser-based queries, which allows it to add additional value in terms of combining information from multiple sources.

Just like any other government agency, the five agencies in CICJIS needed some adjustment time to share information more freely.

"It's not like we decided one day we'll do it, and everything worked," Brandorff says. "It's a continual challenge, because each agency had to give up resources at the beginning to create it."

Brandorff and her counterparts at each of the five agencies continue to meet weekly as the CICJIS task force. "Communication is really the key, at first, to overcome those hurdles, and then to continue to deal with them on a day-to-day basis," Brandorff says.

The greatest benefit of the integrated system, according to Brandorff, is improving public safety by having the most accurate, up-to-date information possible when making critical decisions.


Vicki Powers is a freelance writer of knowledge management and business-related articles, e-mail vpowers@houston.rr.com.


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