Phil Bertolini has spent the better part of his career dealing with tech issues for the second-largest county in Michigan. But what he’s best known for these days is his commitment to helping smaller communities around the state get access to better technology.
Oakland County, where Bertolini is CIO, has been providing shared services to other localities for decades. But Bertolini has taken that process a huge step further. In 2011, he brought the intergovernmental process online to let smaller governments with limited investment capacity take advantage of the work that bigger ones like Oakland had already done. He did that by launching G2G Cloud Solutions, which provides computing services that allow residents of even the smallest municipality to pay tickets, bills and property taxes online. Soon after that, Oakland County followed up with the G2G Marketplace, an online store where governments can find lists of approved vendors and ready-to-go contracts that they can use to research and buy technology and services.
A number of the larger governments around the country do this to some extent. But none have done it on the scale Oakland County has. So far, 82 agencies in Michigan have joined G2G Cloud Solutions, and 52 of them are outside Oakland. Even more remarkable is the fact that there are 721 users participating in the G2G Marketplace across 49 states. Bertolini’s team also makes house calls: They swoop in and troubleshoot IT problems in a number of other jurisdictions, including the state government in Lansing.
The reason for sharing is simple, says the 54-year-old Bertolini: It’s the right thing to do. Oakland County, with a population of 1.2 million and an annual IT budget of more than $16 million, has tech resources that most local governments in Michigan couldn’t possibly afford. “Philosophically, I believe bigger governments should be helping smaller governments,” Bertolini says. “I believe if we have the wherewithal to help somebody, why wouldn’t we?”
Oakland isn’t exactly giving away the store in this deal. Bertolini has structured it so Oakland makes a little money in the process. The county takes a share of any access fee a city or town might charge its residents for a service that uses Oakland County computers. Last year, those fees totaled $17 million. And whenever another locality takes advantage of a vendor’s rate that Oakland has negotiated and put up in the G2G Marketplace, Bertolini’s county gets a discount on its own contract with that vendor. To date, that procedure has saved the county some $630,000.
The collaborative mindset has earned Oakland County national recognition as a tech leader. Earlier this year, Oakland was named one of the most digitally advanced counties in the country (it came in second to King County, Wash.). All of this, says County Executive Brooks Patterson, is a far cry from when he took office in 1993 and discovered county employees were still using typewriters. “We came from nowhere,” Patterson says. “And it all goes to Phil. He’s really put this place on the map.”
-- By Liz Farmer
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