District's Technology Chief Sees Bright Future
District's Technology Chief Sees Bright Future<@VM>Peck: Guide Policy, Don't Impose It
By Steve LeSueur, Staff Writer
The chief technology officer in the nation's capital is quietly laying the groundwork for the District of Columbia to become a "technology city" that can challenge its dominant suburban neighbors in Virginia and Maryland.
Suzanne Peck, head of the district's Office of Technology, already has begun planning for a number of projects, such as surrounding the city with fiber-optic cables to enhance its potential to deliver state-of-the-art services and attract high-tech companies.
"I absolutely believe we are geographically well-placed to be a technology city," said Peck in an interview from her office in downtown Washington.
Although a recent published report touted Washington as one of the nation's new Silicon Valleys, Peck noted the bulk of the region's information technology companies and professionals actually are located outside of the district.
"It is clearly now a Maryland-Virginia phenomenon," she said.
The challenge facing the district, she said, is to build a city that is adept technologically so it can "share in its proper proportion" of the technology riches coming into the region.
Peck emphasizes that her plans are contingent upon the approval of the district's new mayor, Anthony Williams. She also acknowledges that this ambitious goal will not be achieved overnight.
Much of Peck's office spends its time on "stabilization" tasks, such as solving year 2000-related problems, and so she anticipates it will take three to four years to get the necessary pieces in place.
Her vision is a high-speed, broadband communications infrastructure allowing government, citizens and businesses to be online.
To help bring innovation to the city, Peck intends to outsource the district's eight data centers to a private contractor, and is considering outsourcing additional IT functions, including network management, applications development and help desk services.
The request for proposals to operate the data centers will be issued in the second quarter of this year. "Our intention is that the RFP will favor a vendor who will locate the consolidated center in the district," she said.
The district's IT spending exceeds $100 million annually, said Peck, who estimates there are 500 IT people working among the city's 68 departments. Her own staff of 44 eventually will reach 77 when the organization is complete. In the meantime, three IT consulting firms are assisting her staff.
The chief technology officer position was established in December 1997, but the first chief had little time to do more than set up shop. When Peck arrived last June, the city had not effectively begun its year 2000 activities, she said.
"My first tasking was to have a city that works on Jan. 1, 2000," she said.
She has since organized a year 2000 team of about a dozen district managers and 110 employees from IBM Corp. Because they began addressing this issue so late, they are performing concurrently many tasks that normally are performed sequentially, she said. Her office expects some problems in a handful of its 60-plus departments, and is establishing contingency plans to ensure that crucial services are not interrupted when 2000 arrives.
The district also is working on about a dozen other stabilization projects, such as replacing the city's relatively obsolete phone gear with a digital ISDN Centrex system. Thus far, over 7,000 new phones have been installed; the remaining 13,000 will be in place by July.
Peck's office is focusing on three major projects to modernize the city's IT capabilities and create a wide-area network within the district.
¥The first is to encourage installing broadband facilities throughout the city by cable and wireless companies. The city will entice these companies by offering rights-of-way concessions and franchising privileges. In exchange, the city will receive "the indefeasible rights" to use a significant portion of the bandwidth of the fiber-optic cables.
¥In conjunction with these networks, the district intends to build citywide data warehouses and data marts, she said. Not only will this allow district agencies to share information and operate more efficiently, but it also will create enormous opportunities for local entrepreneurs.
Peck noted that D.C. councilmember Sharon Ambrose has said that Washington has the potential to become "the world capital for information arbitrage." Said Peck: "I think that is our niche. Because of our location, we have the ability to collect, in very inventive and creative ways, the combination of municipal, federal and nationwide financial data. This could provide a substantial environment for high-tech companies in the district to exploit this information."
¥The final project under way is the creation of a unified communications center that would house in one location the city's 911 emergency operations, such as the police, fire, medical and emergency preparedness services. Operations in the new facility are slated to begin by February 2000. "This will be an early, visible manifestation of our citywide view of technology," Peck said.
Peck said she recognizes these projects are one part of many improvements needed to make the district a technology city. She said Washington also needs to have a diverse economic base, a solid transportation structure, strong educational and research institutions, affordable housing and dozens of other elements to attract technology enterprises.
"All of these are fundamental considerations," said Bob Cohen, a senior vice president with the Information Technology Association of America in Arlington, Va. The district is making important strides in many areas, he said, but "it's not going to happen overnight."
Business leaders will be watching to see if the new mayor continues the push in this direction. "I think a lot will depend on how the city is run in the next six months to a year," Cohen said, adding that many people want to see the district succeed.
He believes, however, that Peck is taking the right steps to build the technological infrastructure that will attract high-tech firms.
And if she succeeds in creating a technology city that rivals its Virginia and Maryland neighbors?
"It would make a good thing better," said Cohen. Suzanne Peck brings to the Office of Technology more than 20 years of information technology experience, including work in banking, with computer companies, and teaching at four Washington area universities. Most recently, she was a vice president of marketing and regional technology operations with the Systems and Computer Technology Corp., Malvern, Pa., which provides services such as office automation, network integration and outsourced facilities management.
Although Peck's office has oversight for the district's IT projects, she considers it her main responsibility to guide policy, rather than impose it, among the city's IT managers.
"I've been 25 years in IT," she said. "No one owns IT anymore. Anyone who tries to own it or dictate it will fail."
Consequently, she said her office will provide citywide perspective and IT consulting to the departments, aid them in standardizing their technologies and integrating their applications with other departments and provide the infrastructure tools for sharing data.
"The more we do those kinds of things, the more we serve the departments," she said.
? Steve LeSueur