Chris Tonjes: city CIO discusses VoIP phones, speed cameras and water billing at TechBreakfast [VIDEO] - Technical.ly Baltimore

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Chris Tonjes: city CIO discusses VoIP phones, speed cameras and water billing at TechBreakfast [VIDEO]

As city CIO Chris Tonjes said at December’s Baltimore TechBreakfast, his biggest challenge is tempering his expectations to take into account the pace of city bureaucracy. Filed also under “challenges,” perhaps, is overseeing some less exciting matters. For instance: a possible VoIP upgrade to the city’s phone system, upgrading a derelict water billing system and […]

Chris Tonjes speaking at Baltimore TechBreakfast in December 2012.

As city CIO Chris Tonjes said at December’s Baltimore TechBreakfast, his biggest challenge is tempering his expectations to take into account the pace of city bureaucracy.

Filed also under “challenges,” perhaps, is overseeing some less exciting matters. For instance: a possible VoIP upgrade to the city’s phone system, upgrading a derelict water billing system and addressing city residents’ concerns about pesky speed cameras issuing tickets to parked cars.

All three were subjects touched upon by Tonjes during his presentation at December’s TechBreakfast, which lasted for a little more than 43 minutes.

VoIP Upgrade

What heated up over the summer as a feud between the Mayor’s Office and the City Comptroller’s Office has come to involve Tonjes, as it’s something that involves the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology.

At issue are two matters: to what company should the city award a contract for upgrading the city’s phone system, and what office — the comptroller’s office or MOIT — should take charge of any such upgrade. As the Baltimore Sun has reported, a new “PhoneStat” committee was created in the fall that brings together people from the mayor’s office and the comptroller’s office and charges them with finding 15 to 20 percent’s worth of savings in a proposed $7.4 million VoIP upgrade.

But Tonjes takes a broader view of the possible phone upgrade. At TechBreakfast, he posed a rhetorical question to the audience: “In this day and age, is it really a good idea for the city to be in the phone business?” Tonjes went on to point out that landline phones are a “declining technology,” and aside from using his office phone to communicate with his executive assistant, he doesn’t use his office phone, opting for his mobile phone instead.

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Watch Tonjes address the crowd at Baltimore TechBreakfast:

Water Billing System

In February 2012, the city issued $4.2 million in refunds to residents in the city and Baltimore County after an audit showed the city’s Public Works Department overcharged some 38,000 households on their water bills, reported the Baltimore Sun.

Since then? More of the same, as an aging water billing system has churned out inaccurate or erroneous bills.

As Tonjes said at TechBreakfast, “Events have overtaken its usefulness,” pointing out that the water billing system is a holdover from the early 1980s. Right now, he reported, the city is in the process of acquiring a new water billing system. In conjunction with a new billing system, Tonjes said he’d like to see smart meters adopted and installed city-wide, something that “probably take about 18 months,” which would give people the option to view and download their water bills.

Speed Cameras

While MOIT is not responsible for managing the city’s speed camera system, Tonjes did take questions from audience members about the fiasco regarding Baltimore city’s speed cameras: Baltimore Sun investigation documented how a number of insubordinate speed cameras were issuing tickets to drivers who hadn’t been speeding.

“[It’s] not so much of an IT thing as it is a contracted oversight,” said Tonjes. Indeed, the company to which the city contracts out its speed camera system has to ensure the cameras are working properly. Up until the new year, that company Xerox State & Local Solutions. As of Jan. 1, Brekford Corporation has superseded Xerox.

Tonjes assured attention was “being paid to [the speed cameras] by the smartest people in the city.”

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