Commentary  on  the  Cambridge  Information  Technology  Budget  

The  City’s  Information  Technology  budget  fails  its  basic  purpose  of  informing  the   Council  and  Cambridge  citizens  of  how  their  tax  dollars  are  being  spent.  Lacking   even  the  “statutory  analysis”  required,  the  budget  request  consists  of  three  top  line   numbers,  one  for  the  department,  and  two  for  technology  department.  The  goals   stated  are  poorly  defined  and  do  not  reflect  an  innovative,  progressive  technology   agenda.  The  performance  measures  offered  are  largely  raw  numbers  without   context  and  are  not  meaningful  metrics  with  which  to  assess  the  department.  

Technology  Policy  
  Technology  decisions  are  rarely  neutral.  The  City  recognizes  this,  for  example,  when   it  comes  to  environment  technology  where  it  has  chosen  to  embrace  sustainability   as  a  core  value.  Information  technology  decisions  also  represent  values.  Different   decisions  will  have  different  outcomes  when  it  comes  to  openness,  transparency   and  inclusion.       The  City  has,  for  example,  chosen  “Remedy”,  a  commercial  off-­‐the-­‐shelf  software   product  as  the  underlying  software  to  the  Cambridge  Request  System.  Thus,  when   the  Council  suggested  investigating  SeeClickFix,  the  IT  department  reported  that  it   would  be  very  expensive  to  integrate  SeeClickFix  with  the  CRS.  This  wasn’t  a  failing   of  SeeClickFix,  which  has  been  integrated  with  numerous  other  city’s  systems.   Rather,  it  reflects  the  attributes  of  Remedy,  which  is  designed  be  an  internal  system,   not  one  meant  to  function  as  an  open,  transparent  interface  with  the  public.       This,  in  turn,  leads  to  the  way  iReport  was  implemented.  Other  cities  see  mobile   problem  reporting  apps  as  a  means  to  engage  citizens  and  become  transparent  as  to   how  the  city  functions.  They  make  all  citizen  reports  public  on  web  sites  generally   on  maps,  using  this  as  a  means  of  community  building.  Resolutions  are  also  public,   with  all  data  easily  available,  thus  making  the  city’s  responsiveness  a  matter  of   verifiable  record.  iReport  does  none  of  this,  thus  keeping  the  city’s  function  as  an   opaque  black  box.       The  technology  ecosystem  that  is  being  built  will  be  further  reinforced  by  a   requested  upgrade  to  Remedy.  For  an  open  government  technology  advocate,  there   is  no  more  important  technology  decision  Cambridge  will  face.  Perpetuating  a   closed  system  will  make  transparency  far  more  expensive  in  the  future.       The  Council  cannot,  and  should  not,  dictate  the  specific  technology  choices  of  the  IT   Department.  It  can,  and  should,  however,  adopt  technology  policies  that  assure  that   technology  is  used  for  citizen  engagement,  and  in  ways  that  support  transparency   and  inclusion.  It  could,  for  example,  adopt  a  policy,  that  the  city  should  support  the   Open311  standard  (http://open311.org/),  an  open  standard  for  issue  tracking.  This   would  open  up  the  problem  reporting  system,  yet  allow  the  IT  department  the   freedom  to  implement  it  with  whatever  software  it  selects.    

Saul Tannenbaum

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Commentary  on  the  Cambridge  Information  Technology  Budget  

Goals  and  Performance  Measures  

  The  IT  budget  submission  fails  to  articulate  a  coherent  set  of  innovative  goals.  The   performance  measures  provided  offer  no  basis  to  actually  judge  the  performance  of   the  department.  Comparisons  to  other  Cambridge  departments,  outlined  below,  are   telling.       • GOAL  1:  Organize  IT  World  Cafe  meeting  to  encourage  public  input  to  the  IT   planning  process.     It  has  taken  one  year  to  organize  a  single  meeting.  A  robust  effort  to  gather   public  input  would,  for  example,  have  a  web  presence  and  ongoing   communications.  Yet  you  cannot  even  determine  who  the  Community   Representatives  are  or  when  they  meet  from  the  city  web  site.  Community   Development,  for  comparison,  runs  complex,  controversial  public  meetings   routinely.       • GOAL  2:  Develop  a  formal  IT  strategic  plan.     This  is  the  single  most  important  goal  set  by  this  budget,  which  itself  is  a   short-­‐term  plan.  The  Council  should  ask,  however,  whether  the  IT   Department  has  the  skill  set  to  develop  a  formal  strategic  plan.  Since  no  plan   has  come  from  the  department’s  current  management,  it’s  fair  to  doubt  the   this  is  within  current  competencies  of  the  staff.  Engaging  external   consultants,  experienced  in  the  development  of  strategic  plans  should  be   considered.     • GOAL  3:  Maintain  a  high  level  of  computer  availability,  application   development  and  user  support.     None  of  the  performance  measures  outlined  actually  measure  anything   related  to  that  goal.  Counting  tickets  tells  you  nothing.  But,  assuming  200   working  days  per  year,  3200  tickets  represents  16  tickets  per  day.  While  that   number  is  easier  to  conceptualize,  it  remains  meaningless.       Compare  this  to  some  analogous  performance  measures  from  Public  Works.   For  streetlighting,  Public  Works  reports  the  number  of  lights  they  maintain,   how  many  they  had  to  fix,  and  the  percentage  fixed  within  72  hours.  Those   are  performance  measures,  allowing  readers  to  get  a  sense  of  how  well  the   department  is  doing  in  one  of  its  function.     More  to  the  point,  it  is  generally  a  goal  of  IT  departments  to  reduce  the   number  of  user  support  requests.  This  is  done  by  making  processes  self-­‐ service,  increasing  the  quality  of  services  and  training.  This  is  done  as  a  cost   control  measure  –  user  support  requests  tend  to  be  expensive  –  but  also  as  

Saul Tannenbaum

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Commentary  on  the  Cambridge  Information  Technology  Budget   general  service  improvement  program.  Keeping  the  number  of  tickets   constant  is  not  a  success.     GOAL  5:  Increase  access  to  and  usage  of  City  of  Cambridge  website,  providing  a   useful  tool  to  departments  for  disseminating  information  to  the  public.     This  is  an  important  goal  but,  again,  the  performance  measures  don’t  speak   to  the  goal  itself.  The  City  has  implemented  Google  Analytics,  a  tool  to   measure  the  use  of  its  web  site  and  could  easily  produce  statistics  how  many   visits  the  web  site  has  had  and  whether  its  trending  upward  or  downward.   Instead,  the  IT  department  notes  the  number  departments  converted  to  a   new  content  management  system,  a  number  that  measures  neither  access,   usage,  nor  usefulness  of  the  web  site.     Compare  this  to  the  Arts  Council,  which  estimates  the  size  of  the  audience   served  and  understands  this  to  be  part  of  an  overall  goal  of  community   building.       GOAL  7:  Implement  and  standardize  computer  equipment  and  training  to  City   employees,  which  allows  them  to  deliver  efficient  services  to  the  staff  and   residents  of  the  City  of  Cambridge.     No  goal  shows  how  out  of  touch  the  City  IT  Department  is  more  than  this  one.   We  are,  as  most  technology  analysts  believe,  entering  the  “post-­‐PC”  world.   One  can  observe  this  in  Cambridge  by  looking  no  further  than  the  City   Manager,  who  now  uses  an  iPad.  A  modern  IT  department  looks  to  provide   the  right  mix  of  devices  –  desktop,  laptops,  cell  phone,  tablets  –  to  staff   depending  on  their  responsibilities.  A  clerk  has  very  different  needs  than,   say,  a  senior  manager  or  someone  who  spends  large  amount  of  time  in  the   field.  This  is,  in  fact,  a  very  difficult  challenge,  one  with  which  even  the  best   IT  departments  are  currently  struggling.  Yet,  this  goal  seems  to  be  one  of  a   decade  ago,  when  deploying  standardized  Windows  desktop  was  best   practice.  Today,  it’s  ineffective  and  wasteful.     The  performance  measures  are,  again,  raw  numbers  without  context.  What   percent  of  the  total  desktops  are  being  upgraded  or  replaced?  How  many   staff  members  attended  the  classes  offered?  How  many  new  classes  –   reflecting  the  rapid  change  in  required  skills  -­‐    were  offered  this  year?     GOAL  8:  Provide  citizens  with  greater  access  to  government  services  through   the  Web.  This  includes  upgrade  to  E-­‐line  to  add  more  proactive  notifications   about  City  Services     Isn’t  this  really  the  same  goal  as  Goal  5?    

Saul Tannenbaum

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