Dennis P. Fecci has served New York City in various capacities for 30 years, most recently as CIO of the Human Resources Agency (HRA), the entity in charge of data processing and social services. Among other things, he is responsible for revising the welfare management and paperless office systems. Perhaps the most rewarding challenge for Fecci and the HRA, however, has been their role in New York City's recovery efforts.
What was the department's role in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks?
Because my shop is by far the largest in the city of any government, we were asked to set up the mayor's command center. We went to a meeting at 10:30 on the Thursday after the [attack]; at 12 p.m. we went to visit the bunker site. With all the players on the same page - there at the same time - we had the place operational at 6 a.m. the next morning. Two-hundred station LANs, 300 telephones. It just shows you what you can do when you take all the bureaucracy away. On Pier 94, we built the Family Assistance Center where the families of the victims have been coming. There we put in about 250 PCs [and over] 400 phones. All the equipment was donated because by this time I had run out of stock. We built a couple of software applications. We put that up during the following weekend.
What's the biggest IT project you're working on?
Back in the late '70s, early '80s, we developed one of the first truly all-encompassing social welfare systems as a partner with New York. It was called the Welfare Management System. WMS does pretty much everything that has to be done in our environment. We do external asset checks. With WMS, you fill out a paper application [and then] it's data-entered into the system. At the end of the month, we do a check against a bunch of banks. There are 120 different checks we do: banks, employment records, income tax records, etc. With POS [paperless office system], those things are done online, so by the time we get to the question in the application, we already know the answer.
Another big thing in WMS is [the] hundreds and hundreds of codes. That was state of the art in the '70s. With POS, every field has a drop-down box. [For instance], we have something called a shelter code that says what kind of an apartment you live in or single-family house or hotel or whatever. There are 36 of those. The field will drop down and those things are listed in alphabetical order. POS changes that into the code that WMS needs. This has enabled us to improve the accuracy of our system and reduce the error rate. Imaging is another [project]. We have something like over a quarter of a billion forms and records. And that's just for the active cases. We are imaging those.
What do you spend most of your day on?
I tend to get involved with the very big projects at the global level. And then I find myself spending a lot of time in those very high-level meetings where you talk about things [that aren't] high level. Then I find myself dealing with minutia. It's very polarized like that. Some folks feel that something is important and they want me to know about it and me to handle it even though it'll be a very unimportant thing. I find myself splitting my days between those poles.