Massachusetts Forms Virtual Community for IT Workers

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the City of Boston have launched a virtual community for state and municipal CIOs and IT professionals to discuss common issues and exchange information. The partnership, announced October 15 at the Executive Leadership Forum in Boston, is considered to be the one of the first of its kind in the nation.

Tod Newcombe

The project, called "Getting IT Done with Collaboration," will allow IT executives and staff from smaller municipalities to hold online discussions with their peers and exchange information and best practices with IT professionals and CIOs from state agencies.

"We’re all IT professionals and technology has been advancing on various fronts, but we haven’t found a good way to leverage the technology we collectively own to foster better communication and collaboration between the state, cities and towns in the commonwealth," said Boston CIO Craig Burlingame.

The state will host the e-mail listserv and chat board on its computers, according to Massachusetts CIO Peter Quinn. "This is about a community of interest driven by a business imperative," he said. "It’s about discussing problems that you and I are trying to solve."

The partnership will also leverage Boston’s distance learning platform to hold real-time online discussions, which will be recorded and stored for later playback. Some of the initial topics the online community hopes to take up include:

* ways to exchange motor vehicle renewal information in a timely manner
* the use of Web services to exchange professional licensing data between the state and municipalities
* discussion on open source software.

"We are encouraging all people involved in the procurement, implementation and maintenance of IT or telecommunications to join this new listserv so we have a better way to communicate among our peers without having to leave our offices," said Burlingame.

Virtual communities of interest are known for their use of the Web and e-mail to build interactions and relationships among peers who focus on a specific practice, such as technology or management. Knowledge sharing is a key component of these virtual groups, according to Etienne Wenger, an expert on communities of practice. He describes these communities as a forum for practitioners of a specific practice to share and manage their unique knowledge with the goal of creating value through problem solving.

Enrollment in the Massachusetts online community is currently limited to public sector IT professionals only, according to Burlingame.

City, town and state IT professionals in Massachusetts can join the community of interest by sending a blank e-mail. The Forum concludes today.

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