Features

Dan Coldiron – City of Fort Collins

From the trenches of local government to the head of IT

Dan Coldiron’s first job for the City of Fort Collins, Colorado, seems far away from the lead technology role he now occupies. “I was the guy that ran around and got parts for the mechanics when they were working on vehicles,” he says.

Having just left Colorado State University in 1984, Coldiron worked as a parts runner for the city equipment shop. He had no plans to stay in public service, and the possibility of becoming an expert on municipal technology hadn’t occurred to him.

Dan Coldiron – City of Fort Collins

“[But] as I got to work for the city and understood what we were doing, it connected my job to a purpose,” says Coldiron. “I’ve grown up in the community and being able to be a part of a great organization that maintains a really high quality of life for our citizens…was really kind of cool.”

Improvement through technology

Now, 30 years later, Coldiron is now chief information officer for the City of Fort Collins. Under his leadership, the IT department is putting as many government services online as possible. Residents can sign up for recreational activities online, pay utility bills and even view accident reports from computers or mobile devices.

Unlike many IT innovations that are happening concurrently in cities across America, certain development at Fort Collins are unique to the city. One such project is the forthcoming online trail map that caters to the outdoorsy crowd in the area.

“The map can be updated in the field by our park rangers so the citizens can see regionally what [trails are] open and what’s not. This way they don’t have to guess or be disappointed,” Coldiron explains.

Other IT projects have a much greater scale and respond to the growing, almost universal demand for government to be transparent. For instance, six years ago the city decided to participate in an open data initiative by posting all the city’s expenses online. “There was some real hesitation, because not a lot of organizations had done it,” said Coldiron.

City officials followed through on the initiative because they felt they had a good relationship with the community, and the open data would be a way of engaging residents even more. “We [the government] need to be watched —it’s part of why open data is so valuable. It gives people the opportunity to watch-dog,” says Coldiron.

As a public entity, the City of Fort Collins has to be careful in anticipating the expenses of each department. In order to do this, the city uses a program called JD Edwards which compares how much a department has already spent against how much it has committed to spend.

It relies on a separate company, Preferred Strategies, which has worked with the city since 2006, to organize the data generated by JD Edwards, which gets encrypted in 5,000 tables.

“Basically, what we do is turn JD Edwards data into a business friendly format so business users can build their own reports and make better [financial] decisions,” says Adam Crigger, the owner of Preferred Strategies.

Rising through the ranks

Coldiron never imagined being a part of these initiatives when he first started working in the equipment department of Fort Collins. He had always been interested in computers—he even learned how to program and write code in high school.

So in the mid-1980s, he applied for a job with the finance department re-writing spreadsheets and taking care of general computer support for the department.

“It was a nice time in the growth of technology in municipalities, it was really just getting started, especially in our organization,” says Coldiron.

When he first started working in municipal IT, technology at the City of Fort Collins was decentralized. Each department was responsible for its own IT. With his basic understanding of code and computers, Coldiron was able to move from department to department, providing technology services and learning about finance, building, inspections and other elements of municipal government.

“Within the smaller departments, I got to sit with the customers and work with them very closely and customize an application to meet their needs,” he says.

In 1995, after five years of this work, Coldiron was promoted to GIS systems administration when the City of Fort Collins was trying to implement Geological Information Services, or GIS, to do initial base mapping of the city.

City officials wanted to use the initial data gained by GIS, like boundaries of the city limits and zoning in ordinances and Coldiron already had a few ideas how the system could save the organization time and money.

For instance, the City of Fort Collins lies just east of the Roosevelt National Forest. The city was growing concerned that developers might see an opportunity to build extensively on the hills just west of the city. “They felt like construction would detract from the aesthetics of our town,” says Coldiron.

However, Coldiron was able to use GIS to point out that “the potential for construction on the hillside was so minimal that there would be no need for [government] policy prohibiting construction,” he says.

Trial by fire

After his success with GIS, Coldiron was promoted to IT director of application services. In this position, Coldiron had a view of the entire organization and was responsible for managing many of the city’s systems at the enterprise level, such as finance, accounting and human resources. His appointment was part of an effort to centralize all IT personnel into a single department with the hopes of improving communication and productivity.

At first, there were road bumps.

“We had a fairly messy implementation of an email system and it created some real challenges across our whole organization,” says Coldiron. The city attempted a shared email service with a regional partner, but this service turned out to be full of problems, which damaged the credibility of the newly formed IT department.

In response, Coldiron was brought on as interim CIO in 2010 to help correct the email system. Once that was done, he turned his sight to regaining the trust of the departments. “We really embraced measuring and surveying our customers and finding out what they needed from us,” says Coldiron.

As one of the changes to build trust, the IT department began administering surveys to track how satisfied each department was with its IT service. Coldiron also executed a strategic planning effort to figure out what the organization needed from IT, and where it should be headed.

Coldiron was officially hired as CIO in 2011, and he is proud to say that “IT is now a trusted service within the City of Fort Collins once again.”

As Coldiron looks to the future, he is looking forward to more projects that could improve the city around him, whether it’s a community broadband initiative, or increasing communication between departments through Microsoft Office 365.

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