D.C.'s IT has come a long way

Mayor Anthony Williams

Henrik G. DeGyor

'Four years ago, you would have laughed me off the stage if I had come out talking about technology,' Washington Mayor Anthony Williams said in a keynote at FOSE 2003 this month.

Williams described the IT situation when he took office in 1999: 'The District had 270 unlinked systems and no digital phone system. We had dreadful e-mail that would max out at 200 messages a day. We had nine separate mainframe centers. At best, our systems dated back to disco. Some went all the way back to the Beatles.'

The first thing he did was look for new leadership. 'We went for the gold standard,' he said, 'hiring leaders from Fortune 500 companies. We couldn't offer money, so we offered challenges.' Within three years, the District's IT team grew from one person to 100.

The city also got support from Congress, which approved funding for the first citywide IT agency, he said.

Williams said his workers modernized hardware, software and communications equipment and broke down technology fiefdoms.

The nine data centers have been consolidated, with LAN servers to follow, Williams said. A new e-mail system carries more than 1 million messages a day. 'When I came to office, the ratio of hard-copy letters to e-mail messages was 90:10. Now it's the reverse,' he said.

The city's Web portal, at www.dc.gov, received 1.5 million hits in 2001. Last year it reached 100 million.

Williams also boasted of a geographic information system, GIS Atlas, which will be available to citizens for free in September.

The Department of Motor Vehicles 'used to be our very own torture chamber,' he said. 'Now there's rarely a need for a citizen to visit the DMV.'

People still complain, Williams added. 'They say, 'The Web site said one thing, the person on the phone said another thing, and the person at the counter said another thing.' Then I say, 'Well, that's progress. Four years ago, there was no Web site, nobody answered the phone, and there was nobody at the counter.' '

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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