Crain's Op-Ed - To modernize the city's technology, devote a deputy mayor to the task


(Noel Hidalgo) #1

I only wish that Crain’s had specifically called out for the creation of a City department like U.S. Digital Service or GSA’s Technology Transformation Service.

The links in this op-ed are a must read.

The Department of Buildings has long been a poster child for city government’s reliance on paper and outdated technology, and deservedly so. As reporter Joe Anuta wrote on CrainsNewYork.com last month, “Almost every transaction is still done in person and on paper, which has spawned a thriving cottage industry of expediting firms that are often hired to do nothing more than stand in line for hours at the department’s offices to submit filings.”

The good news, Anuta reported, is that this summer the department will begin replacing its outdated, paper-spewing mainframe with a state-of-the-art computer system. The bad news is that this should have happened years ago—not just at the Buildings Department, but at every city agency that uses archaic equipment and processes. Which is pretty much all of them.

Last week, City Comptroller Scott Stringer revealed that the Department of Finance applied $59.2 million in tax breaks to properties no longer eligible for them because their senior-citizen owners had died. The agency had failed to do biannual checks for 10 years, but it should never have come to that. Software should be doing such tasks. Computers should also have been vetting recipients of the STAR middle-class tax credit, which was awarded repeatedly to Donald Trump, as Aaron Elstein of Crain’s discovered.

These are not isolated examples. The New York City Housing Authority uses paper to communicate with 9,000 employees in its developments because half of them lack an email address from the agency. Police and prosecutors in the city still rely heavily on paper, though public safety and people’s freedom is at stake. And just try to find an agency that doesn’t waste people’s time by making them wait on line rather than serving them online. Users of many city tennis courts must travel to them, find an attendant with a sign-up sheet, hope a court is available, book one (with a pen), and return later to play. The process starts anew every day.

The de Blasio administration has written guidelines for the Internet of Things but has continued city agencies’ piecemeal, incremental approach to technology. Random attempts at upgrades take years and go over budget. Even the mayor’s chief digital officer says she struggles to understand how the 340 nyc.gov websites fit together. City government keeps falling further behind the world at large.

The city needs a deputy mayor of modernization with a budget to do the job. Get rid of ledger books, punch cards, clipboards, file cabinets, typewriters and carbon paper. And especially lines. We’ve waited long enough.—THE EDITORS

“The city needs a deputy mayor of modernization with a budget to do the job. Get rid of ledger books, punch cards, clipboards, file cabinets, typewriters and carbon paper. And especially lines. We’ve waited long enough.” — The Editors of Crain’s New York