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The Boston IT Party

The Boston IT Party

Persuading feudal government agencies to share information may be Burlingame's stiffest challenge. Boston has a long history of "a culture of knowledge-is-power", says Samuel Tyler, president of the Boston Municipal Research Bureau, a financial watchdog group funded by businesses. "Sharing has not happened on a widespread basis." According to Tyler, this is where Burlingame needs Menino most. "The mayor must make it clear that this is the direction he wants his administration to go," Tyler says. "Craig's going to need the mayor's support on an ongoing basis."

As an early victory in this unification effort, Burlingame points to The Virtual Boston project. Last year, the city's Transportation Department hired GeoSpan Technologies to drive 1300km of Boston roads with specially equipped vans that created a very detailed visual map of the roads and surrounding environs.

Once they saw Virtual Boston, other agencies - including the police and fire departments - thought of ways they could use the digital map too. As a result, Transportation has shared the resource with several other agencies.

The new CIO faces another type of cultural challenge: simply persuading agencies to alter the way they do business. Tyler points to Boston's Purchasing Department as an example in desperate need of modernisation. Presently, the city posts its requests for proposals online but otherwise makes no use of the Internet for procurement. "That's a great example of an opportunity that's not been fully utilised," Tyler says. "They're still using mostly paper. [Purchasing] could use an overhaul. It should embrace technology much more than it does now."

In their recent book, Powering Up: How Public Managers Can Take Control of Information Technology, authors Katherine Barrett and Richard Greene list bullet items for CIOs in states and cities to focus on. The list boils down to coordination, communication and standardisation. The authors add, "Even more important [than technology skills] are the managerial-political skills required to manage a large cadre of workers and to relate effectively with governors, mayors, legislators, citizens and all the other stakeholders who play a role in this field."

Those who know him say that Burlingame brings to the table political astuteness, universally praised technical knowledge and a reputation as a strong communicator. "He's a people person," Barnstable Town Manager Klimm says. "People don't feel threatened by him."

Boston will soon find out if that's the right recipe for its first CIO.

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