Maricopa uses IT to manage fast growth

Maricopa uses IT to manage fast growth

'Every day I come into the office, sit down and say to myself 'What a great time,' ' Maricopa County CIO Linden Thatcher says.

By Trudy Walsh

GCN Staff









Who's In
Charge


Linden Thatcher

Chief Information Officer


Paul Allsing

Director, Electronic Business Center


Nancy Bozich

Director, Telecommunications



John Doktor

Director, Integrated Criminal

Justice Information System


IT SPENDING











Source: Maricopa County

Office of the CIO





Maricopa County, Ariz., is the fourth most-populous county in the nation and is ranked among the fastest growing. So chief information officer Linden Thatcher must have his work cut out for him, keeping up with rapid growth and the latest technology, right? Yet this is how Thatcher describes his job: 'Every day I come in to the office, sit down and say to myself, 'What a great time.' '

Before landing the CIO job in 1995, Thatcher had spent 10 years in the armed forces and worked 16 years in the private sector, partly at Boeing Co.


THATCHER: Technology has come out of the garage. It used to be this mystical thing behind the wall. Now everybody thinks they're an expert. People are sharing information on the Web, seeing what technology is like in other jurisdictions.

Somewhere I read that a magazine surveyed 213 chief executive officers and asked them what was the most important thing to their survival, and they all said it was information technology. Government leaders understand that now and want to leverage that. So there's been a major shift'IT folks have a friendly audience. In my case, I work with the elected folks to craft our future technology. Their thirst for technology is substantial.

If we can prove that a substantial improvement will be made by some new technology, we'll be approved for funding. If an agency makes a weak case for funding, they won't get it.

Like anyone else, we struggle with the increasing cost of technology workers and the scarcity of them. We do a salary study every year and partner with human resources on that. Our retention rate is pretty good. We go to great lengths to focus on our staff, to train and reward them.

If you could pick one word of what we're about, it would be transformation. That's part of our mission statement, to champion the transformation of government into the information age.

Leaps and bounds

Maricopa County is just an outstanding place to live. People come to town to visit and then stay. County population now stands at 3 million. By 2020 it will be 8 million. We're usually ranked the fastest or second-fastest growing area.

But growth brings challenges, too. All that growth has made our freeway systems crowded. Technology is helping us do more sophisticated highway planning, thanks to environmental mapping and geographic information systems. GIS is really helping us with long-range planning and coping with this rate of growth.






MAJOR DIVISIONS
Administrative Technology Center'Runs the countywide mainframe data center


Electronic Business Center'Responsible for county Web site, at www.maricopa.gov, and a county intranet with streaming media that multicasts video to one viewer or 100
with the same amount of bandwidth

Telecommunications'Supports voice and data communications




MAJOR PROGRAMS
Electronic Government'A county initiative to put as many services online as possible

Integrated Criminal Justice
and Information System
'Integration of the county's disparate systems into a single, cohesive system

Network Infrastructure'A $40 million, five-year effort to build the county's asynchronous transfer mode network




We're trying to deliver every county service online that we can, so nobody has to get on the freeway for government services.

My proudest accomplishment as CIO is my staff. I've had more than 26 years of experience in the military and private sectors, but I've never had a better team than this. With the staff I now have, I can do anything. Without the staff, I can do nothing.

Another accomplishment I'm proud of is that we've established standards for everything in the county. We all use Microsoft Explorer, Microsoft Exchange for e-mail and Microsoft Office. Now all the pieces integrate together.

We learned a lot from the year 2000 computer problem. First we learned that everyone could put their shoulders to the wheel. We started working on it back in 1996, lining up funding. We've got 11,000 computers in the county, and we had to rally together to coordinate the remediation and testing. And we pulled the county through without a hitch.

We learned how to do a disaster recovery process.

The next big thing, undoubtedly, is electronic government. That transcends everything. It's harnessing the power of technology to modernize government. There's no looking back.

I can't think of a single area of government that electronic government won't transform. Everyone will be affected by electronic government, from county medical examiners to people in jail. England's prime minister, Tony Blair, said that by 2008, 100 percent of government services will be available online unless it's physically impossible.

I told our county administrator, David Smith, that we would do the same thing.

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