City with the big shoulders tackles new IT demands

City with the big shoulders tackles new IT demands

'After Sept. 11, people were looking to the Internet to find out what was going on. That's been one of our goals: to make the city Web site a real communications hub.'
'CHICAGO CIO CHRIS O'BRIEN

Like many cities, Chicago has made changes since Sept. 11. Some are obvious, like sharpening data security and disaster recovery, said Chris O'Brien, the city's CIO, but other changes are subtle.

'One thing we noticed after Sept. 11 is that people were looking to the Internet to find out what was going on,' he said. 'That's been one of our goals: to make the city Web site a real communications hub.'

The site, at www.cityofchicago.org, lets users pay parking tickets online as well as request city services and use geographic information system tools for neighborhood crime tracking and mapping. Visitors to the site can enter their addresses and find out what crimes have been committed nearby.

The city's GIS is built with ArcInfo and other mapping tools from Environmental Systems Research Institute of Redlands, Calif. 'We're pretty heavily outsourced with some of our applications,' O'Brien said.

The city also has IT contracts with Hansen Information Technologies of Sacramento, Calif., Oracle Corp. and Unisys Corp.

Resources needed

O'Brien strikes a familiar chord when he reveals his biggest challenge as CIO: a lack of resources. 'There are so many things we could do to make things better,' he said. 'I would love to do all these new projects at the same time, but there just aren't the resources.'

The city of the big shoulders isn't shrugging off its challenges. Chicago has a new citywide asynchronous transfer mode network with near-100 percent uptime, O'Brien said. He and his team also instituted standards for desktop hardware and tools; rebuilt the application infrastructure; and replaced the city's tax and licensing system.

O'Brien assumed his post in April 2000. A Connecticut native, he moved to Chicago in the 1990s to attend Northwestern University, where he earned a master's degree in management in 1995.

O'Brien joined the city in 1998 as managing deputy CIO in charge of strategic planning. In that role he was director of Chicago's year 2000 readiness project.

O'Brien learned how to plan for contingencies as a result of his year 2000 work. 'If there's something wrong with the transportation system, that's going to affect the whole city. There's a domino effect,' he said.

'I was amazed by the amount of logistics and coordination it took to make a city this size run right,' O'Brien said. 'It was staggering.'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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