San Francisco short $157 million for tech upgrades 

Police currently use an outdated radio communication system that could pose problems in a disaster. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Police currently use an outdated radio communication system that could pose problems in a disaster.

The vintage radios and MS-DOS-era accounting system used by San Francisco emergency personnel and City Hall bean-counters are among obsolete technologies in dire need of replacement, but the $157 million price tag with no immediate funding source has The City “stuck in 1999.”

It will require roughly $69 million to fund the radio replacement project alone. Replacing the accounting system will cost another $73 million, according to a January presentation made by Chanda Ikeda, a mayoral budget officer, before the Committee on Information Technology.

In all, there have been about $206 million worth of citywide information technology upgrades requested by departments, but only $49 million is available, Ikeda said.

Most of The City’s fiscal functions are run on an MS-DOS system called FAMIS, which handles payroll, accounting and contracting. MS-DOS is the keyboard-based operating system that pre-Windows PC users might remember.

City emergency personnel use analog radios that can’t easily communicate with other local, regional and national first responders, making vital coordination difficult in the event of a major earthquake or other regional disaster.

San Francisco’s participation in a regional radio network replacement project, called BayRICS, was approved last year but a funding source was never identified.

While The City has been dubbed an “innovation capital” by Mayor Ed Lee, San Francisco’s government has been slow to embrace technology. City employees still use multiple email platforms, and a massive project to consolidate city email functions has been plagued by delays.

Merely coordinating citywide fixes between the multiple city departments involved has long been a headache for would-be IT reformers. As late as last February, The City’s budget analyst, Harvey Rose, called for a coordinated plan that included detailed funding sources.

A draft plan outlining the immediate upgrades and how to pay for them is due at the Mayor’s Office and Board of Supervisors by March 1.

Board President David Chiu said in January that there is a $400 million wish list of IT replacement or upgrade projects, but only $50 million in long-term funding currently available. Bonds are not an option, he said.

“As San Francisco strives to be the capital of innovation, we haven’t invested in our city’s IT infrastructure,” Chiu said Wednesday. “Our 21st-century city government is running on many legacy IT systems stuck in 1999.  We need to do better.”

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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