January 11, 2013 By Colin Wood
Baltimore is refocusing its IT efforts after the hire of Chief Technology Officer Chris Tonjes. Tonjes was named as a replacement to Rico Singleton, who resigned in Feb. 2012 amid accusations of ethics violations. Among Tonjes' focus areas are upgrades to broadband availability and increased civic engagement.
Tonjes joined Baltimore following his service as CIO for the District of Columbia Public Library, where he oversaw the creation of the library's first mobile application, broadband expansion for library branches, and an initiative to offer computer education classes to low-income residents. Bridging the digital divide is also a key priority in Tonjes' new role, he said, and his office will eventually announce concrete plans focused on making progress toward that goal.
But for now, Tonjes has spent the last few months getting oriented with the city and focusing on infrastructure. “I've been doing due diligence to understand the capability and maturity level of the city's IT agency and the city's IT portfolio as a whole. We're organizing around what I consider to be very important focus areas,” Tonjes said. The city is also looking to cut waste by eliminating unneeded programs and technology spending, such as custom software development that could simply be purchased instead.
Tonjes' office plans to secure and enhance the city's 800 MHz radio system and expand the city's fiber network with about 25 miles of fiber, he said. “I have been working on improving on a lot of our infrastructure to modernize it and make it much more reliable and I've also been working on our 911 and 311 call center to be more productive and provide a higher level of service to citizens and ... city agencies and public safety agencies,” he explained.
The city will also focus on innovative changes that enable a higher level of civic engagement in the near future, with an announcement coming in the first quarter of 2013. “Historically, we've spent quite a bit of our time here being focused on operational things, managing the city's infrastructure, and doing some level of application support,” he said. “Engagement with the community isn't something we've spent a whole lot of time on, so it's a new mission for us.”
According to Tonjes, the role of the CIO in the city organization is evolving beyond just a purveyor of technical expertise. “Historically,” Tonjes said, “the CIO was considered to be the most technical person in the room, with a little bit of knowledge that was esoteric, and a little bit of a black box. That is no longer the case. The CIO is someone who helps facilitate organizational change, who is a partner, who is much more open and participative in their style of implementing technology.” A CIO, he said, is now also gauged by his ability to collaborate and solve problems.
“What I'm trying to do is focusing on delivery, focusing on my priorities, trying to keep my commitments to people so that whatever missteps or things that have happened in the past are no longer yardsticks that people use to judge my agency,” he said. His department will accomplish its goals, he explained, through clear communication, hard-working staff members, and staying focused.
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