San Francisco's government technology is far behind 

click to enlarge Embarrassment? Some 4 percent of San Francisco’s budget, roughly $250 million, is spent on technology each year.
  • Embarrassment? Some 4 percent of San Francisco’s budget, roughly $250 million, is spent on technology each year.

While San Francisco is the epicenter of a new high-tech boom, the notoriously dysfunctional technology resources of local government remain a source of municipal embarrassment, according to a new report.

The tech challenges facing city government are nothing new, and pressure has intensified in recent years to bring about change. But a civil grand jury report released Thursday, “Déjà vu all over again: San Francisco’s city technology needs a culture shock” suggests that improvement is moving at dial-up speed — if at all.

“San Francisco’s citywide technology governing structure is ineffective and poorly organized, hampered by a hands-off mayor, a weak Committee on Information Technology, an unreliable Department of Technology and a departmentalized culture that only reinforces The City’s technological ineffectiveness,” the report said.

Since coming into office, Board of Supervisors President David Chiu, who once ran a tech business, has vocally called for an overhauling of city technology resources. Chiu said he agrees with the report’s overall assessment and also that it would take “real leadership” to solve the challenges.

The grand jury report puts the onus for that leadership on Mayor Ed Lee.

“Overcoming the basic problems within citywide technology can only be brought about by the passionate leadership of the mayor,” the report said. “Only he can bring about the culture shock that is needed to transform city technology to the level he talks about.”

The report said that The City’s seemingly never-ending tech woes won’t be resolved unless Lee shows “same leadership in meeting the internal technological needs of City government that he has shown in establishing San Francisco as an ‘innovative capital.’”

The City spends about $250 million a year on technology, nearly 4 percent of its overall city and county budget. Reports identifying The City’s tech shortcomings are numerous, which this new report repeatedly notes.  

“The City is heavily invested in what currently exists, yet it faces duplication of services and equipment,” the report said. “Recommendations for improvement abound, but there is little authority exercised for their implementation, continuing The City’s history of financial waste and inefficient technology operations.”

According to mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey, The City’s technology outlook is not all negative.

“While we can always improve, there have been significant steps already taken to better organize and streamline technology systems and governance,” Falvey said. “In the past year, we have lowered IT costs, established a Five-Year Technology Plan and passed legislation to strengthen IT governance for the City.”

That said, Falvey added that Lee would review the report and implement the “best ideas.”

Low-tech systems for a high-tech city

The Civil Grand Jury found a number of examples of technological ineffectiveness

  • The continued existence of seven email systems, nine data centers and multiple wide area networks, with city departments resistant to consolidation and change.
  • The stalled completion of various inter-departmental projects, one of which is now 15 years old and way over budget.
  • The absence of a citywide technology budget and staffing plans.
  • Hurdles to the hiring of highly qualified candidates in a competitive technology marketplace.
  • Blatant noncompliance with the Administrative Code and city policies.

Source: 2011-2012 Civil Grand Jury Report: “Déjà vu all over again: San Francisco’s city technology needs a culture shock”

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