A few months after the 2001 terrorist attack on New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s mandate was straightforward: Make the Big Apple a better place to live in. For his part, in four years as CIO of New York City, Gino Menchini helped set new standards for local government to be more accessible and more accountable to its citizens.
In his new role as vice-president, North America government services, for CA Inc., Menchini sees new challenges for government in ever higher service levels – shared services that are responsive to citizens’ needs and a federated approach to identity management.
With more systems being accessible to the public and a broader range of technologies making services available, government is forced to start looking at identity management in a very holistic approach, he says.
“You start to get to the point where you really need to begin to operate like an enterprise,” says Menchini.
An enterprise-type approach is needed for functions like identity management, help desk and call centres, and network and technology infrastructure that can be put into place once and managed effectively.
It makes sense to bring government departments and agencies into one centralized IT system offering shared services, he adds. “But if your model is going to be a centralized IT utility, that utility has to be responsive.”
In New York, this proved a significant challenge for Menchini. In many ways, his IT staff were held to a higher standard than the agencies would normally have held their own IT staff, he says. “They accept less from their own people. But when it’s now a central group that’s providing IT services, they need to be well managed and backed up.
“There’s also a double standard that comes into play, and we have to be able to meet that double standard. It’s the reality.”
Menchini was able to significantly affect the way that people felt about NYC government by making it more accessible, he says, by having someone to speak to – he launched the city’s 311 call service in 2002 – or a Web site that citizens can go to and get what they need.
“It’s not that different from the expectation you hold of a store, or anything else you deal with in the private sector.”
If government ultimately should be making life better for the public, then its biggest challenge is to be customer- and service-oriented, says Menchini. The public is going to expect that government treats them like a valued customer and operates efficiently.
“That’s what’s going to shape the perception of how well an administration is managing government,” he says.
It’s a new standard that’s going to be applied, and government will have to be focused on this, and ensure that it gets perceived that way.
“I think if you’re managing your services well, you’re constantly getting feedback from citizens.
You have to listen to what’s happening – and not necessarily even look at statistics.
“But put yourself and your people in the shoes of the citizen. And how are you responding? Are they getting what they need, and do they have to call back to be able to get the problem resolved and addressed?
“It’s really about looking at things from a citizen-centred perspective, and then using that to develop your technologies, and to make enhancements, seeing where they need it more and where they need to have additional functions.”
Through market research, Menchini learned that most New Yorkers were reasonably satisfied with the city’s services. Police and ambulances were responding well, and citizens were empathetic with government employees about how challenging their jobs were at times.
What they really felt they had issues with was trying to get the service – Menchini says 311 significantly helped to address this by setting service levels and expectations – and being treated like a valuable customer, as opposed to just being polite.
“It’s great to have someone answer the phone, it’s great to have them be courteous, but at the end of the day the problem has got to get fixed. They want to see the transaction completed.
“We felt that setting expectations reasonably would enhance the customer service experience. And then over time, with the technology in our systems, we’re able to track how agencies are performing to their stated performance goals.”
On the IT infrastructure side, the move to a central data centre made it easier for agencies to put up applications more rapidly, says Menchini, and to have those apps in data centres that were survivable, that had adequate backup and security, and were well managed.
“Instead of every agency having to try to manage their own IT infrastructure, it makes sense for certain things, even in a federated IT model, for those services to be provided in an enterprise manner rather than every agency having its own data centre.”
There are exceptions to the rule, he adds, for example if agencies had already invested in their own data centre. “Rather than going out and saying we’d centralize, we’d do it when it made sense for them to do so,” says Menchini. “What that creates is a very different political environment – the fighting goes away to a great extent, because you’re not taking things from people.”