The biggest challenge for city CIO Chris Tonjes? Moving at the pace of city bureaucracy, where building consensus around new approaches and ideas has a tendency to take awhile.
As Tonjes said last Thursday at Baltimore TechBreakfast, “I have to temper my expectations based on time.”
Tonjes, who took the reins of the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology in July, spent 40 minutes speaking to the crowd of 100-plus at the monthly meetup, just two days after Christmas. Much of that time was spent outlining the new mission he has been promoting, one he hopes will make MOIT staffers the “smartest people in the room.”
And the focal points of that new mission?
- Civic data
- Bridging the city’s digital divide
- Promoting public engagement
- Doing more investing in new technologies
Watch Tonjes address the crowd at Baltimore TechBreakfast:
The cornerstone of Tonjes’ approach is hiring people with “customer-facing skills” who can do “expert-level” IT consulting at Baltimore city government agencies.
Having those people on staff, Tonjes said, will enable MOIT to “guide the city through structured analysis of technology investing.”
But investing in newer technologies that could help the city is tricky, given MOIT’s $40 million budget per year, an amount from which just $6 to $7 million can be spent on new technologies “if we’re judicious,” Tonjes said. His goal is to increase MOIT’s allowance to 1 percent of the city’s general budget, which is about $5 billion, but even then that amount of money would be roughly one-quarter of what Howard County spends on technology each year, he said.
As Technically Baltimore has reported, not all the work CIO Tonjes has had to take on since assuming his post is glamorous or exciting, a reality of the job that runs counter to his desire to bring more of a “startup mentality” to city government, especially in the city’s IT department.
Being able to pivot quickly to newer means of doing business—for instance, moving the nearly 50 legacy applications the city runs off a mainframe, including the City Sherriff’s Office’s record-keeping system—isn’t a luxury MOIT can always afford.
To that end, Tonjes’ second appearance at TechBreakfast was an echo of his sentiments of his first appearance in August, when he said the main thing he needs from Baltimore city residents—and Baltimore city’s tech community—is time.
“There are a number of people that really like the status quo,” Tonjes said last week, speaking generally about actors within city agencies. “And trying to change that is really, really, really hard.”