Milwaukee finds allies in e-gov
- By Brian Robinson
- Nov 13, 2001
Milwaukee officials are trying an innovative approach to building an e-government
system by partnering with local businesses to get such things as Web site
design and Web-based marketing at reduced costs.
A general announcement published this year by the city proposing the
formation of public/private partnerships pointed out that any agreement
involving $5,000 or more in payments required a competitive request for
proposal process, but anything below that amount could be accommodated through
"less formal" decision-making.
"We put that in to encourage firms to think of other benefits they can
get out of this," said Kimberly Pratt, the community information systems
coordinator in Milwaukee's Information Technology Management Division. "The
partners we've signed up for so far are doing a lot of pro bono work for
us, and in return, we give them an attribution on our Web site, and they
can use us a reference for other work they do."
The city had tried the traditional outsourcing route, Pratt said, and
interviewed several larger firms with the idea of having them handle all
of Milwaukee's e-government business. But, even though the firms would have
done the upfront work for free, the city itself still would have had to
deal with the issue of interfacing the Web front end with the government's
"And whichever way we looked at it, it seemed that they did indeed end
up controlling the system," Pratt said. "If they decided they didn't like
the set up or the costs involved, they could walk away, and the city would
be left without an e-government system."
The current solution calls for the city's IT staff to build and maintain
the core elements of the system, including the interfaces and such things
as the central databases. The businesses provide applications and services,
such as language translation, that are not essential to the core nature
of the system.
In this arrangement, if things do not work well, the city can easily
sign up with another company or drop a particular application or service
entirely, Pratt said.
"This does seem a more preferable approach, since we get to keep control
of the system while putting the whole thing together for lower cost," she
said. "And no matter what functions we give out to private firms, we will
still need that fundamental staff expertise."
Robinson is a freelance journalist based in Portland, Ore.
Brian Robinson is a freelance writer based in Portland, Ore.