Taking to the Streets

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani has revitalized New York City by reducing crime and welfare. Now he's getting tough on technology.

by / June 30, 1999
Perhaps the most interesting story about city life to come out of the 1990s is New York City's unprecedented reduction in crime -- more than 44 percent since 1993 -- the largest drop in 28 years. The man behind the story is, of course, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, the Brooklyn-born grandson of Italian immigrants, who rose to prominence as a tenacious associate attorney general.

When Giuliani became mayor in 1993, not only was crime out of control, but the streets swarmed with the homeless and 1.1 million people struggled to get by on welfare, the largest number since the Great Depression. By 1997, however, there were 220,000 fewer people on the welfare rolls, the city's payroll had been downsized by 23,000 and, oh yes, the murder rate had dropped 48 percent to levels not seen since the 1960s.

Columnist George F. Will has called Giuliani the mayor who "grabs institutions by their lapels and tells them to shape up." But he is also the mayor learning to embrace the future, in terms of automating City Hall and helping the city switch over to the digital economy. Technology has helped the police stamp out crime in the boroughs and social workers weed out fraud in the city's welfare system. Electronic kiosks have put city government on the streets of New York and the award-winning Web site, NYC LINK is extending government right into the homes and apartments of New Yorkers.

As the new millennium approaches, Giuliani's New York faces challenges from an aging infrastructure to a digital economy that could change the face of such stalwart New York industries as finance and publishing. How the mayor will deal with those issues and others remains to be seen, but clearly, technology will play a greater role in shaping New York City for the next generation.

GT: When you became mayor in 1993, New York City streets were swarming with the homeless, more than a million people were on welfare and the crime rate was at a record high. Today, all those alarming problems have been reversed. What's been your secret to the successful turnaround of the city's fortunes and what role has information technology played in the transformation?

Giuliani: Increasing public safety is key in our overall strategy for revitalization. We were unable to face our other challenges in the past because we were crippled by crime. Integral also to our overall strategy is a focus on quality-of-life issues, such as cleanliness and making government more accessible and responsive. New York City is the safest of the nation's largest cities that report complete data to the FBI, with crime continuing to decrease. There's now a fundamental sense of security in New York City, whether it be in the home, walking down the streets or going to work. We've created a cleaner, safer, more vibrant city which people are eager to experience. Technology has played a very important role in these accomplishments.

In the area of public safety, the COMPSTAT system provides preliminary crime figures on a timely basis to all levels of police management. The system has facilitated the Police Department's ability to respond to local trends, and has allowed us to implement preventative anti-crime strategies in a flexible and effective manner. The use of closed-circuit television in public-housing facilities also helped produce a significant decrease in crime. Technology is central in our strategy for customer-service enhancements. Through NYC LINK we have made tremendous strides toward establishing the Internet as a viable point of access for government services. The deployment of kiosks -- multimedia, interactive information booths -- throughout five boroughs is providing the public with easy local access to city information and services. We plan to build upon and expand these efforts.

GT: What are your priorities for investing in information technology during your administration?

Giuliani: We will accelerate the implementation of technology at all levels of the city's government, with the goal of further improving the delivery of core city services. With this goal in mind, in October, I issued an executive order to establish a Technology Steering Committee for the city charged with the development and oversight of state-of-the-art, integrated information technology systems throughout city government. On March 1, this committee published the city's first "Information Technology Strategic Plan."

We will continue to focus on improving public safety and the delivery of core government services. This will include further expanding our automated fingerprint identification system, completing a second E-911 Public Safety Answering Center and enlargement of the city's GIS system for increased use by such agencies as the Fire Department, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Environmental Protection.

We will improve public access to city government services by increasing the number of services which can be accessed electronically. I envision a city where constituents will eventually no longer have to physically visit government offices in order to obtain needed services. To this end, the city's Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications will be working with other city agencies toward the goal of setting up virtual agencies, where all constituent interactions with these agencies can be handled via the Internet, voice or kiosk technology 24/7.

My administration is facing Y2K head-on. We have budgeted and plan to spend over $300 million on Y2K-related projects. In addition to remediating our information technology infrastructure, we have approached Y2K as an opportunity to upgrade, consolidate and replace our older technology systems with new and advanced technology that will place the city in a better strategic position well beyond the year 2000.

GT: New York City has some very powerful public-employee unions. What has been their reaction to the city's use of technology to trim bureaucracy? Do they see it as a threat?

Giuliani: My Office of Labor Relations has worked very closely with employee unions, which understand the need for the city to upgrade technology to remain competitive and better serve its constituents, many of whom are union members. Some unions have also worked with us to develop training programs to ensure that their members receive increased computer-skills training. This gives our employees the option of reassignment, rather than layoffs, as changes in the job market occur.

GT: A recent trend in government is the outsourcing of computer operations to improve efficiencies. Would you consider such a proposal?

Giuliani: New York City has partnered with outside vendors on many large-scale technology projects. We are constantly looking at ways we can improve and more efficiently manage technology, whether handled internally or outsourced. This administration will use any strategy which could move this city toward our goal of efficient, responsive and competitive government.

GT: New York City has the largest immigrant population of any city nationwide. How does that hinder your ability to rely on computers and automation to deliver services?

Giuliani: This is not a hindrance at all. In fact, technology has historically unified very diverse communities and facilitates communications and therefore strengthens our service-delivery-improvement efforts. My Office of Immigration Affairs and Language Services has a Web site on NYC LINK and provides vital information and services to our immigrant community. CityAccess, deployed on stand-alone touch screen kiosks located throughout the five boroughs, provides 24/7 access to city government services and information in English as well as Spanish, and we are looking to add multilingual content.

New York City's immigrant community has embraced the Information Age wholeheartedly, and many of our senior information systems staff are themselves immigrants. There is also a huge response from the city's immigrant communities to our recruitment efforts for technical information technology specialists. The future availability of virtual agencies, and the comprehensive use of Internet, voice and kiosk technology to access city-government information will also benefit our immigrant communities.

GT: Your administration recently installed several dozen kiosks around the city as an experiment in widening service delivery by computer. Is this a test of technology or part of a strategic plan to deliver more city services electronically?

Giuliani: CityAccess, the city's kiosk demonstration project, has been a tremendous success. Over the last four months, these multimedia, interactive information booths were used approximately 50,000 times per month. Kiosks [as a permanent technology] will be a key component of our strategy to provide New York City residents with more services in their communities electronically and in the creation of virtual agencies.

GT: A 1997 report to the city's Board of Education stated that more than two-thirds of the computers in the city's schools were obsolete and called for the city to spend $1.2 billion to upgrade technology in schools. How can the city rectify this problem without reducing investments in traditional educational tools, school buildings and teachers?

Giuliani: What we have tried to do in our schools, with the help of the chancellor and in partnership with him and the Board of Education, is to put money behind strategic initiatives that could produce significant results. The city hopes to be able to draw on federal funds and to use other innovative funding strategies, such as cable franchise agreements and public-private partnerships, to upgrade the technology infrastructure of New York City public schools. For fiscal year 1999, $150 million has been allocated to Project Smart Schools, a public-private coalition that will provide access to technology in all middle-school classrooms. A total of 1,700 computers have now been installed and 13,000 more computers will be installed by August.

GT: Traditionally, cities have played a key role in developing the local roads, bridges, transit systems and utilities that allow business and commerce to flourish in their jurisdictions. What should that role be in an information economy?

Giuliani: New York City's government is taking a very active role, working closely with cable franchises and telecommunications vendors to ensure that our information technology infrastructure remains among the world's finest. We are expanding our institutional network (I-Net), which is fiber-optic-based and capable of carrying numerous forms of voice, video and data communication. The I-Net supports several innovations, such as distance learning and video conferencing. One resource which will assist in the assessment and maintenance of this infrastructure is our geographic information system, which we are currently expanding. We have recently expanded our Plug 'n' Go program, a public-private partnership which offers affordable, prewired, Internet-ready space to small start-up and branch-office operations. Since its inception in 1997, more than 170 companies have leased over 430,000 square feet of space.

GT: An information economy is less constrained by political boundaries than the industrial economy. People can work almost anywhere. As mayor of a city with an economy heavily reliant on information-based industries such as financial services and the media, what are you doing to ensure that these businesses remain in New York?

Giuliani: New York City is a pro-business city. My administration has sought to relieve the business community of unnecessary burdens and to foster a climate friendly to growth and investment through important regulatory and tax reforms. Last year, taxes were reduced by $2.4 billion. The New York City Economic Development Corporation also deploys aggressive business-retention strategies, and provides energy-cost assistance, quality services to assist businesses with such issues as government regulation and direct aid to development initiatives. The New York City Discovery Fund, which to date has made investments totaling $38.7 million in growing, New York City-based advanced-technology companies, is one of the many programs which we have instituted to boost technology-related business.

Many of the nation's premier universities in the New York City area are graduating talented programmers, designers, producers, managers and new-media marketing specialists, offering great access to technical and creative resources. New York City is simply experiencing a proliferation of new information technology companies; so much so that the area in Manhattan, south of 42nd Street, where most of these companies have settled, is now called Silicon Alley.

GT: Some scholars and journalists believe that the future of local government in the Information Age lies in a regional approach to economic development, public safety, transportation and so on. Do you see regionalism playing a larger role in New York City's future?

Giuliani: Historically, New York City has been at the forefront of innovative approaches to regional government and we must continue these efforts to remain the capital of the world. We have already embarked upon several projects regional in scope. Regional data-sharing partnerships are of great benefit in such areas as procurement, law enforcement and adoption services. Several city agencies are involved in projects with regional-national implications. For example, my Office of Emergency Management has partnered with the state and federal government in preparing for natural and/or man-made disasters. New York state's planned intelligent transportation system hopes to take advantage of New York City's mature Citynet network structure to deliver and receive information and traffic movement by linking the state's fiber network to the city's. Numerous other innovations are in the pipeline.

GT: The rapid growth of information technology has given New York City a much stronger role in the global economy. Has that affected how you govern the city?

Giuliani: Globalization, the motivating force behind business today, has required that we broaden our concept of doing business-as-usual. As the world looks to New York for business leadership, we are paving the way by reducing and in some cases eliminating taxes, providing cost savings for utilities and quality assistance to small business by helping them cut through the red tape. Our division for commerce has created the New York One-Stop for International Businesses, which brings together international business experts to provide expedient and quality services to foreign businesses planning to relocate to New York City. We are also utilizing the Internet as an access point to services and information for foreign businesses that have an interest in New York City.
One Plan
One Plan, 7 Million People

In the last few years, New York City has seen unprecedented drops in the crime rate, welfare rolls and the number of homeless, while an economic upturn has swelled city coffers with new revenues. Rising fortunes have also improved roads and bridges, reducing the number of crumbling-infrastructure stories on the front pages of newspapers. Hoping to maintain that momentum, the city has now turned its attention to the infrastructure of the late 20th century: information.

On March 1, the city issued its first strategic plan for information technology. Recognizing both the tremendous force of the Information Revolution and the relative infancy of the movement, the plan is as much a vision of the possibilities as it is a framework for building the new infrastructure. It also recognizes that providing services and protecting citizens is impossible without properly harnessing and managing the city's information assets.

The plan is the product of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's newly created Technology Steering Committee, which unites the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications, the Mayor's Office of Operations and the Office of Management and Budget. Together, the members of the committee represent the city's decision-makers when it comes to IT planning.

The mayor has vested in the steering committee the power to review and approve the annual technology plans of all mayoral agencies, develop and monitor all citywide IT policies, standards and procedures, review appointments of all senior IT managers and oversight of the city's Technology Fund.

While recognizing that Y2K remains the city's top priority for now, the strategic plan outlines city strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as far as IT is concerned. For example, executive support for IT is considered strong in New York City, but coordination of technology between agencies and internally is weak. At the same time, * * the city believes that IT can increase revenue collection, yet it faces the threat of future fiscal constraints on IT initiatives.

Given these realities, New York City has defined six IT strategic goals:

establish an electronic government;
achieve a comprehensive, interoperable technology infrastructure;
effectively manage IT as a citywide enterprise;
make smart IT investments;
secure the city's information assets; and
communicate with appropriate partners and stakeholders.
As broad as some of these sound, the objectives for each spell out just how serious the city is about its IT infrastructure and assets. For example, with e-government, New York plans to expand citywide services to residents via the Internet, kiosks and interactive voice-response systems. Procurement officers will have to develop policies and procedures for establishing some kind of electronic link with vendors and to standardize purchasing, payment and billing systems to allow electronic commerce to work effectively.

For an interoperable technology infrastructure, the city plans to beef up its telecommunications plan, leverage its SONET-based institutional network, explore new technologies that integrate voice, data and video, and develop a common basemap for a citywide geographic information system. Objectives for other goals include recruitment of more qualified IT personnel, allocation of funds to spur investments in IT, expansion of the city's information security infrastructure and partnerships with the private sector and other governments to leverage projects.

Like all strategic plans, uncertainties hang over New York's technology goals. Meeting the plan's goals will call for hefty investments in IT. Despite budget surpluses, the city is under pressure to cut spending. Giuliani is a pro-business, anti-tax mayor determined to change the city's liberal spending legacy. Meanwhile, repairs to the city's aging infrastructure continue to soak up precious money.

Then there's the execution. Government employees have a history of resisting change if technology is introduced in a way that proves threatening. Even when implemented properly, technology can be perceived as a threat by some workers. New York City, which has more than 200,000 highly unionized workers, is bound to have some resistance. More than one deftly planned IT initiative has been late, over budget or completely derailed because of cultural resistance. The mayor's steering committee and departmental IT managers will have their work cut out for them as they reengineer city government for the Information Age.


By Bryan M. Gold

Allan Dobrin

When New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani went searching for a CIO last year, he needed to look no further than his own office. That's because veteran city employee Allan Dobrin was serving as executive deputy in the Mayor's Office of Operations, with forming a marriage between people on the business side and people on the technology side a key responsibility. Dobrin had previously served as chief of staff for the deputy mayor of operations.

So when Dobrin became city CIO and commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications a year ago this month, Giuliani knew he wouldn't need much time to get up to speed, and in October the mayor issued an executive order to establish a technology steering committee. Not that Dobrin was concerned. "[Giuliani] had been involved in the oversight issues for a long time, and many people have spent a lot of time thinking about the questions, so we hit the ground running," Dobrin said.

The questions such as how to incorporate technology and its best use in government started when the mayor first took office and he outlined public safety as his top priority. Technology played a role in that area, thanks to the COMPSTAT system.

"I think it was always part of the agenda, using technology to reinvent the government. I think the mayor and everybody realized we could move even faster and move more comprehensively if we had a governance structure," Dobrin said. "What happens traditionally in the city is lot of good agencies' projects happen, but they were agency projects. New York City is somewhat, it's a little old-fashioned to say this, different from the rest of the country, not because we have different issues, but because of the size of the city."

Indeed, the city's school district has 125,000 employees, with 40,000 personnel in the Police Department.

"These are large agencies with fairly large MIS departments," Dobrin said. "So, historically, they used technology to deliver their services, but the longer we're here, the mayor realized more and more that it's important to have a coordinated structure to oversee this, to have city projects instead of agency projects."

That concept started to take shape when Joseph Lhota became the CIO's boss and, more importantly, the deputy mayor of operations.

"It couldn't be better. It's a wonderful situation for me," Dobrin said. "I have a one-on-one for an hour with the deputy mayor every two weeks. I have a two-on-one with him for an hour every single week. And the mayor gives us whatever time we need."

More time may be needed for Dobrin and a staff of 300 in his department to better serve the city of roughly 7.3 million residents. The future will belong to the concept of e-government, which will change the paradigm of how services are delivered.