The first time I wrote a story about New York City's 311 system, I was interviewing former IT Commissioner Gino Menchini in the back of a car as it whisked through traffic on Manhattan's East Side. Former Deputy Commissioner Larry Knafo was with us, and despite the awkwardness of note-taking in the back seat of a car, there was a definite sense of excitement about what had just been launched: a three-digit hotline for New Yorkers that linked live operators with state-of-the-art customer relationship management software.
New York City wasn't the first local government to do this -- Chicago and Baltimore were out of the gate with 311 service earlier. But the fact that newly elected Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who had successfully used technology to transform the financial sector, was behind this project gave it an extra layer of expectation.
I could tell Menchini and Knafo realized what was possible. The marriage of technology and customer service was about to move New York quickly into a new world of possibilities -- although the transition would hit a few bumps along the way.
Four years later, New York City has a new IT commissioner, and 311 continues to transform city government and services. Paul Cosgrave has the challenging task of lifting the city's wildly successful hotline to the next level of expectations: linking the capabilities of 311 with the interests of the community and nonprofit groups that work directly with city residents. It has thrust the IT commissioner into a new, very public position -- one that would make few CIOs comfortable.
Cosgrave, who served as CIO of the IRS and has worked in the private sector, is also spending more time with IT management -- something we cover more and more in our magazine -- as his agency, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, takes on a more centralized and strategic role within the city. The job won't be easy, especially in a city like New York where some agencies have the size and power to act independently of the CIO.
Like many city CIOs, Cosgrave also grapples with a public safety system that desperately needs updating in the areas of technology and communications. But unlike any other city, Cosgrave is dealing with police and fire departments that operate on a mind-boggling scale. This issue's cover story provides a glimpse of what's going on inside the nation's largest city and the man who must make sense of it from an IT perspective. It's a fascinating story, and will have many more chapters added as time goes on.
Tod Newcombe is the editor of Government Technology's Public CIO.