County's tech chief has a story to tell
- By Trudy Walsh
- Aug 13, 2003
Kimberly N. Ellison-Taylor, a county systems guru
Lawrence Jackson Jr.
Kimberly N. Ellison-Taylor has been chief technology officer of Prince George's County, Md., since January 2001. She also is deputy director of the county's new IT and Communications Office.
Ellison-Taylor brings a business perspective to the job. She was a manager in the information risk management practice of KPMG LLP, now BearingPoint Inc. of McLean, Va., and a systems integration program manager at Motorola Inc., where she worked on two-way radio systems for the Justice and Defense departments.
Ellison-Taylor also held several positions at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center: procurement analyst, computer operations specialist and year 2000 project manager.
She has a bachelor's degree in information systems management with a professional writing minor from the University of Maryland-Baltimore County and a master's in business administration of management information systems from Loyola College of Baltimore.
Ellison-Taylor also is a certified public accountant in Maryland and a certified information systems auditor. Most recently, she completed Carnegie Mellon University's CIO certificate program.
GCN senior editor Trudy Walsh interviewed Ellison-Taylor by telephone.GCN: What are your top challenges as chief technology officer of a large metropolitan county?
ELLISON-TAYLOR: First is security. It never got the attention that it needed. But after Sept. 11, 2001, everyone sat up and paid attention. And it's overdue. We need to maintain a secure architecture and ensure that our data has integrity and is highly available and secure.
Second is business continuity'not just disaster recovery, which is also important. We have to figure out how to pick up the pieces and continue. Trash still needs to get picked up; people still need to get paid.
As we move forward, the continuing challenge will be funding. With my M.B.A. background, I think of this as a business. I was in a course with a lot of industry people. They said, 'Well, you're from local government, so you have a different motive than we do.' And I said, 'No, we have a competitive motive, too. We are competing to keep our citizens here in Prince George's County.'GCN: You recently redesigned the county's Web site, www.pgcounty.com. What changes did you make?
ELLISON-TAYLOR: Before the redesign, it was not easy to navigate. We wanted it to be more compliant with Section 508 to make sure we can serve citizens with disabilities. We wanted a content management system so that the technology would do all the updating.
I got everyone to buy into a decentralized content management system with workflow that would allow each department to set up approval levels as they deemed appropriate. But it also would maintain a standardized format for the site.
We wanted predictability. We didn't want users to come in and say, 'Oh, the back button is here on this page, but it's somewhere else on the next page.' Now we have a template that everyone models content updates on. I call it controlled decentralization. GCN: How did you revise the county's outsourcing process?
ELLISON-TAYLOR: Since 1980, the county's technology had been almost completely outsourced. One of the first things I realized is that for a government technology organization, we were not in control of our environment. I showed them the business case for why we should hire a technology work force, as opposed to outsourcing everything.
I looked at the billing rates and at how much we could pay people, and I could show a cost savings. It just made sense to bring some of those functions in-house. And so 20 positions were outlined.
No one thought I'd be able to hire these people on such short notice. But the Personnel Office had an online job fair for the positions.
Now, I'll be honest. Part of the reason I've been able to do the things I've done is because I don't know the environment or protocol. I'm bumbling around where ignorance is bliss.
And personnel stepped right up to the table. We hired everyone we needed. Even though the Personnel Office at first said, 'Oh, it's three to five months to hire,' we got those people onboard, in most cases, within 45 days.GCN: What are some of your IT goals?
ELLISON-TAYLOR: It sounds like motherhood and apple pie, but we really want to provide accurate, reliable, secure services that support our departments.
The secondary goals are making sure that we have an infrastructure that can support voice over IP and wireless environments that are secure and highly available.
We want to make sure that we can restore data when people lose it.
We want to rate a Capability Maturity Model Level 3 from a mainframe perspective, where a mainframe is an enterprise server, not just a mainframe dinosaur.
And we want to Web-enable legacy applications.GCN: What are your plans for e-government?
ELLISON-TAYLOR: People say, 'Oh yeah, e-gov is Web-enabling government and putting it on the Web.' Well, a lot of places have smoke and mirrors. They didn't reduce cycle time, and they did not get any e-gov efficiencies. All they did was put a pretty face on it. It's like when your mom says, 'Clean your room,' and you do. But you shove it in the closet or under the bed.
We need to transform manual processes, think electronically and be paperless. My vision is to be like Chase Bank or American Express. You can pay your bill online, and they can tell you what your last couple of transactions were.GCN: Talk about your geographic information system.
ELLISON-TAYLOR: We have more than 220 data layers in our GIS, which is built using ArcIMS from ESRI of Redlands, Calif. We put a great deal of effort into making our centerline file accurate because we supply information to the 911 emergency system.
We can't dispatch officers to locations that are not yet in the database, such as new developments. We work with 911 staff to make sure we enter that information into our database.
We're using GIS as a decision tool. The police might check the proximity of liquor establishments to a crime. If you wanted to evacuate a location based on a chemical spill, you could use GIS to see how far out to evacuate, and what sorts of residences and businesses are there.
We also have a snow-tracking application. We can show what the road temperatures are and where salt should be laid. Thermometers transmit information to tell the Public Works Department where they need to go. You collect all your calls, look at the map and determine the best route.GCN: Is there much of a digital divide in Prince George's County?
ELLISON-TAYLOR: I think about 60 percent of county residents are wired to the Internet. We also offer access through libraries and the school system.
We're working in partnership with the Housing and Community Development Department and with Comcast Corp. of Philadelphia to complete a fiber-optic network throughout the county.
The digital divide is getting a lot smaller. In schools, our kids are being exposed to computers. But we're going to collaborate with other organizations: the colleges, the Park and Planning Commission, and the recreational centers.GCN: How are the challenges of governing Prince George's County different from those in neighboring Maryland counties?
ELLISON-TAYLOR: We're the second-largest jurisdiction in Maryland, and one of the best-kept secrets. Being buffered between Fairfax County, Va., Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, Md., people forget that we're here. And we have aggressive goals. We're making exponential headway in areas we never have before.
We're growing so fast it's amazing. Every nook and cranny, somebody's building something. But compared with our neighbors in Montgomery County and the District of Columbia, we are still affordable. I think people are beginning to recognize that they can live someplace affordable and still be close to D.C.
People sometimes say, 'We didn't even know you were there. We didn't even know you had a chief technology officer.' Prince George's County is a story that needs to be told.