Technology & New Orleans City Government: What’s Really Going On (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, we discussed the history of the city’s technology department and the challenges we face today.  Along with the out dated information system, the city recently had to deal with a real estate computer and server crash as city hall.  In late October, the Civil District Court’s computer system failed taking important mortgage records with it.  While in early December a critical server that stored city workers documents and e-mails crashed leaving many city employees without access to their information. The city’s current IT challenge has become an important factor to the new administration. To help fight IT problems a new Chief Information Officer has been hired. The new chief begun his position with a plan geared towards efficiency and innovation.

Where to Start?

Any experienced technologist will tell you that before you start fixing a technology problem you must have three things:

Mr. Allen Square, Jr

the right people, a plan to remedy outdated systems, and a strong vision of innovation for the future.  The new administration has appointed Allen Square, Jr, the new Chief Information Officer to spearhead this campaign.  Unlike past tech chief’s for city hall, Mr. Square has the education and experience in information technology to get the city out of this storm.

Denice Warren Ross

Another hire, Denice Warren Ross, the new Interim Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Manager sports an impressive resume by being the former Deputy Director at Greater New Orleans Community Data Center. In the past, she’s spoken at various conferences about transparency and technology as it pertains to government along with numerous years of experience in web development and user interfaces.

The city’s IT department understands that it’s still a long road before they find all the right pieces to bring city hall technology into the 21st century.  On December 21st, 2010, city hall will host a career luncheon in conjunction with 504ward to aid in the search for technology professionals for upcoming positions.  Some of the openings include a Service and Innovation Director, Web Developers, Security Specialists and Network Administrators.  Mr. Square and the city’s Policy Director, Oliver Wise will discuss technology projects that the city will launch.

A new organizational chart was drafted and all job descriptions within the department were rewritten in order to streamline their services and ensure job performance.

Vision & Goals

The city is acquiring the right people for the job, but where do we go from here?  In a November city council meeting, Mr. Square outlined his department’s vision, proposed budget, what he views as future successes and upcoming projects in 2011.

According to Mr. Square, the vision of the city’s technology department is “to increase the availability of information and information systems to improve decision making for city employees and citizens of New Orleans”.  Mr. Square is focused on getting the right data into the hands of the citizens and elected officials to aid in decision making.

His top goals focus on stabilizing the IT environment, building a better foundation, creating value services, as well as bringing innovations into other areas of IT government.

In recent meetings, Mr. Square pointed out that historically the IT budget was heavily invested in costly professional services.  Instead of funds being designated into improving IT systems, previous administrations paid up to $90 or $100 per hour for a consultant to do the work.  Looking at this, his department immediately reduced the number of professional service contracts and delayed projects that they were not ready to begin in order to balance their budget.  IT was also able to save approximately $100,000 from a contract negotiated with Xerox for copy center usage by the city.

The proposed budget calls for $4.9 million for innovation, $1 million for sustainable communities (such as GIS department) and $12.3 million for open and effective government (core systems for the city uses), which totals $18.2 million.

Screenshot from City Council Presentation: Proposed 2011 City IT Budget

Success And What To Expect In 2011

Mr. Square shared his vision of success in the New Year, which includes four areas:

  • No major server outages
  • Proper customer expectations
  • Positive customers satisfaction
  • Flawless execution & good project management

Also outlined were four major IT projects that the city will further develop:

Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) Systems: The largest project for the city is the ERP, which is a needed system for New Orleans. Currently the accounting and financial systems that the city uses includes a “hodgepodge” of applications that don’t work well together.  The ERP system will cost the city over $20 million and take 24 to 38 months to implement with maintenance costs ranging from 20% to 30% of the total cost.  The life span of this system is between seven to ten years and has been stressed by other CIO’s outside of New Orleans that the city must do something to fix the finance and accounting system.

NOLA Stat: NOLA Stat originally started in Baltimore as City Stat, this system will allow city officials to track data in an efficient manner.  The IT department plans to collaborate with other departments where processes need to be redesigned or improved.  T he system can be used to track data on things such as street lights fixed, the number of houses being demolished, and other important statistics.  Mr. Square wants to create a NOLA Stat office with a NOLA Stat Director, two performance managers, one stats analyst and one stats coordinator.  Ultimately this will help departments move away from tracking data in Excel spreadsheets into a web enabled tracking system.  The timeline for this project is between the first quarter and third quarter of 2011.

Ask NOLA: The city previously tried a “citizen call center” before with 311 NOLA but it failed miserably.  Ask NOLA will be a revamp of 311 and perform as a customer contact strategic service that will be accessible through a call center, the Internet, and also mobile devices.  Mr. Square stressed the importance of customer service to citizens and hopes that this will come online around January 2011.

e-City Hall: Currently you can perform five transactions on the city’s website which include paying your parking, traffic, and speed camera tickets, as well as real estate and sales tax.  The city hopes to expand these transactions to include the ability to pay tax applications, treasury items, permits, business registration certifications, 311 services, recreation services, animals’ services, and finance and procurements.

New Orleans city government is beginning to move in the right direction, despite budget constraints for 2011.  We have begun the process to establish the right core team to help put the pieces together to create city government technology that works for us.  Nothing will change overnight, but with constant movement of the city’s new technology team will help us to achieve radical improvements throughout 2011 and beyond.

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  • http://twitter.com/BJournal Brett Thomas

    Ms. Ross seems extremely qualified for the role. I am interested in what kind of GIS projects she will implement in her interim and what types of data will be exploited. We all know the bad neighborhoods but I’m sure the city would benefit more from the data visualized in a GIS interface. It would also do wonders in providing the common citizen simplified data about the depth of the flood plain they live in, and weather model mapping would aid in future insurance disputes following storms. Ms. Ross LinkedIn profiles reveals a great ability to build, manage, deploy and scale large amounts of data; however, it might be more cost effective to work with a company like SimpleGeo who has already developed a non-relational database system that can be exploited through HTTP.

    EAL, Brett Harrington