Boston means business with its IT initiatives

Boston means business with its IT initiatives

The hub of New England continuously expands Web services and e-government

By Claire E. House

GCN Staff

Who's In Charge

William Hannon

Management Information Services

Department Director

W. Todd Sims

Information Technology Director

Jack Malinsky

Operations Director

Source: Boston Management

Information Services Department

William Hannon's 26 years in Boston government brought him to the directorship of the Management Information Services Department two years ago. Hannon most recently ran the city's Graphic Arts Department and also held high-ranking positions in the former Real Property Department and Community School System.

Hannon spoke with GCN/State & Local about the city's information technology initiatives, including electronic government services for Boston's 600,000 residents.

Boston's central MIS Department manages information technology for most of city government. We do the planning, and our business analysts within the department work with the heads of the more than 50 city departments to determine what their IT needs are and get them budgeted.

I oversee a staff of 80, and the city has about 40 other IT professionals in the other departments.

Four departments'fire, libraries, police and schools'have their own autonomous IT staffs that coordinate with us. They do more of their own planning, but we coordinate very closely with them and still have the overall approval of technology.

We are one of the few local governments actually doing real business over the Internet through our Web site, at We developed several transactional applications, some of which collect fees, taxes or fines.

We've got a lot of momentum with the brand. We're currently at 15,000 hits per day and seeing monthly traffic increases. We're getting a lot of positive feedback, so the site will continue to grow.

The site is tied in to an electronic kiosk system called Boston i, which also has commercial content. The system connects in real time to a rack of servers here in City Hall, letting citizens pay excise tax and parking tickets just like they can on the Web. We currently have five kiosks installed, with 15 more to come at the pilot level.

Free access

The city incurred no capital costs for the kiosk system, and citizens do not pay to use it. Contractor JCDecaux USA of New York sells advertising over the network to recoup costs. And Bell Atlantic Corp. is providing a year of free digital subscriber line service in exchange for program co-sponsorship.

Boston plans to expand transactional Web services, city MIS director William Hannon says.

Besides getting government services, citizens and visitors can use the kiosks to view information about restaurants, places of interest, events and movie schedules. Ultimately, you will be able to purchase movie tickets and make restaurant reservations through the system.

As for other projects, we're currently in the midst of rolling out a new citywide financial and human resources application that will serve our 18,000 city employees. Financials is complete, and we're probably about 50 percent through the human resources rollout.

The city's Educational Technology Initiatives, which started as a pilot project of one community center, one library and one school back in the mid-1990s, have turned into a wildly successful endeavor.

We have got every one of our 128 schools attached to the Internet. We are well under way to honoring the mayor's commitment of one computer for every four students and one computer for every teacher and administrator, which translates to 20,000 desktops.


Information Technology'Oversees applications, e-government and IT analysis sections

Operations'Oversees server, telecommunications, operations and help desk sections


E-Government Services'Provides services to citizens through the Web and a kiosk system

Infrastructure'Boosts IT infrastructure via the Metropolitan Exchange Point and cable franchises

Educational Technology Initiative'Brings IT to schools, libraries and community centers

We have also taken that concept into the community centers. Boston runs a network of about 35 community centers, and we have computer labs in about 40 percent of those.

There are also 26 branch libraries, and we have public access computers in every one.

ISP exchange

We're doing an interesting thing called the Boston MXP, for Metropolitan Exchange Point. Through an agreement with a public peering facility, any Internet services provider in Boston can subscribe to the exchange point and offload Boston-bound traffic to the provider it is going to. Providers pay a nominal subscription fee and gain benefits from peering with other subscribers.

The region benefits from the increased speed of flow. And the city gets a 100-Mbps gateway for providing the space and the transport. We also have two cable providers doing full city build-out.

In the public-safety and emergency services arena, the most important IT element is computer-aided dispatch. We have a CAD steering committee that works with those departments on a monthly basis to keep current on what their needs are and the status of the CAD industry.

In general, I think the thing that's really important for us and for other cities is to realize that the culture of how information technology affects and is used by our employees is changing very rapidly.

So we continuously work on getting employees the best equipment for their jobs and trying to find ways of making the services we deliver better by using the technology. For our government, we accept that as our responsibility.

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