July 9, 2007 By Tod Newcombe
The building at
Walk through the large office layout and you're likely to see many familiar faces, including longtime city IT staffer Ron Bergmann, who is now DoITT's first deputy commissioner.
But the new commissioner and CIO is an unfamiliar figure.
Paul Cosgrave took over less than a year ago, shortly after Mayor Michael
Bloomberg's successful re-election bid. He is new to
Cosgrave, who had extensive IT experience in the private sector before working for the federal government, returned to the private sector once again where he served as executive vice president of Crown Consulting Inc., an IT consulting firm.
But in 2006, Bloomberg snatched Cosgrave to guide DoITT
through strategic changes that would coincide with the mayor's own vision for
He has his work cut out for him, however. And time is literally ticking. A clock in the mayor's office is counting down the days remaining in Bloomberg's administration. Cosgrave and others only have until the clock strikes "1" to execute Bloomberg's strategic vision.
Bloomberg's second-term themes include transparency, accountability and accessibility, which he wants to embed into the delivery of government services. "We're structuring everything we do to align IT with those themes and to deliver a much more customer service-oriented government," Cosgrave said.
Such an alignment calls for change, and you can't make fundamental change without a strategic plan.
So last year, after Cosgrave took over DoITT, he initiated a two-phase plan, starting with DoITT's structural and governance issues. "We did this because there weren't any good governance processes in place as far as managing things on a more citywide basis," he said. "We're a highly federated model here in the city. For a lot of reasons, however, we're moving toward a more centralized model."
Those reasons include a civil service system that's out of step with IT needs, and the inability to attract and retain workers on a municipal salary when skilled personnel can easily move to Wall Street and make lots of money. As a result, city agencies are battling each other for IT talent. But where others see a problem, Cosgrave sees an opportunity.
DoITT has always been a utility for the city, running wired and now wireless networks for the city, but now the agency is adding more services to its menu, such as help desk services, e-mail services and more, Cosgrave said. "On the operations side, you are seeing more and more agencies having us do these things for them."
With a greater emphasis on IT management, Cosgrave
initiated a portfolio-management process for the first time. Using his
experience working in the federal sector where streamlined IT approaches are
common, DoITT is closely engaged with
The second phase of the strategic plan is to build a road
map for what DoITT will do over the next 1,000 days. As Cosgrave pointed out,
tight deadlines for IT projects aren't new in
Connecting with Community Boards
The impact of 311 on
But IT centralization has its limits in government. Few
jurisdictions at the state and local levels have achieved true centralization.
In states such as
Still, Cosgrave is betting on a citywide strategy using IT to deliver on the mayor's vision. "I'm working on a lot of committees and trying to manage things on a more citywide basis," he said. DoITT has also added the position of chief technology officer to provide senior leadership for enterprise architecture, strategic planning and portfolio management.
One of the places where Cosgrave has been spending more time is the City Council chambers. So far, Cosgrave has had a positive impact there, and with one council member in particular. Gale Brewer, a Democrat who represents the Upper West Side of Manhattan and has been a critic of past IT policies, had nothing but praise for the freshman CIO, especially for his work in making 311 data reports available to community groups.
"Cosgrave closed the loop regarding 311 follow-up," Brewer said. "Nobody did that before. And that's a lot of work because it involves 59 public community boards."
Rise of the Networked City
As Brewer pointed out, Cosgrave meets with the community boards to discuss how these groups can reach out to citizens based on the queries and complaints received by 311. For example, anyone who has a heating problem calls the city's Department of Housing Preservation and Development. Each year, the department receives 500,000 calls relating to heating emergencies. Thanks to 311, that number has grown. Because so many of the calls are made by immigrants, many of whom don't speak English, Cosgrave must ensure his callers can field calls in 170 different languages -- not your typical IT issue.
And starting this year, 311 becomes enhanced 311 (E311)
In Governing by Network, authors William Eggers and
Stephen Goldsmith discuss how the rise of IT is enabling local governments to
weave together solutions involving agencies and nonprofits, and then deliver
the solutions to community groups, as
Cosgrave said he realizes the enormity of what lies ahead for E311. "It's incredible how many different agencies get involved in these processes," he said, "so trying to streamline these things into an electronic format versus a paper process is a big challenge."
Yet Cosgrave's most time-consuming work involves public safety. At the top of the list: replacing the city's 911 system. This requires collocating police and fire in one building so calls can be handled uniformly. As the technology provider, DoITT runs the program, which means acting as facilitator, resolving various structural, process and cultural issues between the two agencies.
The city is also installing a significant public safety wireless network. The plan calls for a service-oriented architecture, so that services can ride on the network in a logical way. One example will let the fire department retrieve images of a building located at the address of the fire.
As Cosgrave points out, the feature sounds great. The challenge, however, is how to structure and process those requests so the data moves logically and doesn't complicate the delivery of other types of emergency information over the wireless network.
Leaving Tradition Behind
Cosgrave says his philosophy as a CIO is simple.
"It's about people and processes. Technology is last. Dealing with people is paramount."
"I spend a lot of time on business process change," he admitted. "How do we take a bureaucracy that has traditionally thought of things in terms of agency-by-agency and change that model and think about it in terms of the constituent?"
It's a question many CIOs are pondering these days. Not
surprisingly, many eyes will be on
Tod Newcombe is the editor of Government Technology's Public CIO.
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