Bloomberg Goes Bold with IT

New York City's mayor has vision when it comes to technology.

by / January 21, 2008

Like most large cities, New York gets criticized for hogging the limelight. Hollywood hasn't helped matters by making the Big Apple the location for some of its most recent movies (mostly dealing with disasters of one kind or another).

And it's the same with IT. We've given more than our fair share of coverage to the city's IT program, especially its 311 service, despite the fact that many other cities are doing similar projects.
But big IT stories don't happen just because New York is big. Leadership is a significant reason why New York continues to capture our attention. Mayor Michael Bloomberg hasn't just poured lots of tax dollars into flashy IT projects that have a unique scale because they operate in New York City. From the start, the former Wall Street businessman has shown a savvy understanding of IT's capabilities -- and limitations -- building up the city's digital facade through e-government while slowly integrating the back-end systems that make the city work. 

Bloomberg also has shown he has a politician's touch when it comes to getting the public behind expensive IT projects. As any CIO knows, 311/CRM (customer relationship management) systems aren't cheap. Not only do they require a hefty investment in technology, they also require lots of human operators to answer the inevitable increase in hotline calls, as the software and the three-digit number simplify how a citizen can inquire, complain or ask for help.

Under Bloomberg's direction, New York City heavily promoted the use of 311, despite the fact that it must have cost the city several dollars every time an operator answered the phone. And we're talking 30,000 to 40,000 calls per day! But now, the city loves the service so much, they wouldn't dare cut its budget, nor would citizens accept a reduced version of 311.

That brings us to this week's news. Bloomberg presented his State of the City address and outlined nearly 12 major IT projects the city plans to undertake. They range from GPS for school buses to a new wireless platform for wireless, congestion pricing and, yes, more enhancements to the city's 311 program.

Not all these projects will be funded and implemented. But they represent a strikingly overt emphasis by the mayor to align technology with his vision of a safer, more transparent city, with services that are responsive to the needs of its citizens. In other words, the mayor is not afraid to put technology on the same page as the key business and service goals of his administration.

At a time when most government chief executives seem to be backpedaling from the notion that IT is one of the few key drivers that can transform Industrial Age government into 21st-century government, up steps Bloomberg to speak out loudly that the city is going to move ahead -- thanks, in large part, to smart investments in technology. 

We could use a few more leaders like him.

Tod Newcombe, Editor Editor, Public CIO