If you want to save towns across America, hire individuals that can bring enabling technologies to all departments, businesses and taxpaying residents to change how all constituencies conduct business for the better.
Call these sorely needed hires chief town technology officers (CTTO) and have them interact with the board of selectmen, school department, town hall, police and fire, public works, the finance committee and businesses in the town. Do it now or continuing paying more today, and later.
Town spending has long gone to the school department, police and fire and roads (infrastructure). Much of these collected funds are for capex efforts. It’s beyond high time for towns to bring in IT industry veterans, give them a healthy budget and throw some of property taxes toward enabling technologies ASAP.
Why? Because far too many towns are bereft of technology thinking, let alone technology implementations. The needs of towns have evolved rapidly beyond computerized traffic lights and police cruisers with laptops. But the use of technology too often has lagged at best.
The CTTO must have fairly equal elements of business brains and experience with technology brawn – and the ability to simply present proposals to other, less tech-savvy town decision makers (and residents).
If it weren’t for TV competition in most towns, even web access would likely still be slow and hard to find.
The president’s connected schools initiative is a great piece, but only a piece, of the puzzle. What about the non-education part of each town?
In the space of two years after the dotbomb detonation, I know of a Massachusetts town that approved a revamped/made over town hall, a $5 million library and a $40 million+ high school – all when the state was hit with the worst economic and job availability times in many decades.
The shiny town hall has no POS capability meaning you can only pay bills by check, cash or money order. The library (seriously?) is a statue to stupidity and the high school, while well intentioned, was built without sports fields.
My point here is that a CTTO would work with all departments to ensure technology is implemented wherever it enables progress. The application of enabling technology can make a town more efficient. Without it, you can put your town in a time capsulize to puzzle and stump future generations.
For example, instead of spending $5 million to build a new library, why not equip some of the empty storefronts in town with laptop, high-speed Internet, etc., for free. Throw in some printed materials for those that use them and you’re essentially done without breaking ground.
This would’ve been much cheaper and “technology smarter” than a multi-million capex for such a resource.
And don’t forget, the need for business brains is part of the job description. This CTTO needs a solid understanding of what I call modern-day-business-basics. Is there really a meaningful reason why sports fields, busses, Internet “storefronts” and other technology implementation can’t be sponsored by a responsible business to defray or eliminate costs altogether.
Smart Business of Technology
In a world where everything in sports and TV at least is brought to you by or sponsored by one or more businesses, why don’t towns learn and smarten up? As long as the product isn’t offensive or something students shouldn’t use, bring ‘em in. Naming rights, sponsorships and paid signage are gigantic cash cows waiting to be milked – by too many towns.
We need to embrace and welcome this not-new phenomenon with open arms. Opportunities need to extend in all directions – beyond ads in paper high school football programs and yearbooks. Sigh.
You don’t have to go NASCAR race cars or old-school boards in hockey rinks to get the job done. With over 80 cents of every tax dollar in my town going to the school system in some way, shape or form, I’d love to see a football game at Nike Field, watch players with vendor patches on their uniforms, signage on busses and then tour the IBM/Intel computer resources and video production facilities (assume we have one.)
The F Word
In recent years, countless towns have imposed “sports fees” on families with a child or children that participate in sports. They are significant and can serve as barrier to entry as opposed to just an extra financial burden. Getting smart with sponsorships and naming rights could do more than just eliminate the fees.
The Bottom Line
Towns are facing some of their toughest financial challenges ever, and many without a tech-savvy leader to help them survive – and thrive. The good news in this gloomy situation is that the arsenal of available products and services has never been larger. Enabling technologies are proven and available for the taking.
Technology and business intelligence combined can help towns afford and accomplish much more, without taxpayers paying more. However, without the CTTO, it’s back to the past, not the future.
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