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5 things we learned from the City Council budget hearing for Baltimore’s IT department

On June 8, members of the city council talked to Baltimore City Information and Technology Director Todd Carter about a proposed budget increase for 2021, open data and more.

Baltimore City Hall. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons)
Updated, 1:57 p.m., 6/11/2020

It’s budget hearing week at the Baltimore City Council, as the city’s legislative body meets with agency leaders about spending and funding proposals for Fiscal Year 2021, which begins on July 1.  On June 8, members of the city council heard from the Baltimore City Information & Technology Department (BCIT).

Here are five things we learned about the city’s IT budget:

Cybersecurity is hush-hush

In May 2019, the city was struck with a ransomware attack that took many systems offline for months. It is still a pending investigation, and councilmembers were asked not to pose questions about the specifics of BCIT’s past, current and future plans regarding cybersecurity.

BCIT is dedicated to modernizing Baltimore

Earlier in May, the administration of Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young proposed to maintain funding it had originally planned this year for new IT initiatives, even as other spending areas were frozen amid economic downturn caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Overall, BCIT is in line for an increase of about $12.5 million in funding for FY2021. 11th District Councilmember Eric Costello, who chairs the council’s budget and appropriations noted this spike, adding that, “There doesn’t seem to really be an increase in the number of positions” alongside the dollars.

BCIT Director Todd Carter explained that the increases are attributed to bringing on a new system called enterprise resource planning. The city is implementing a cloud-based system called Workday, which is scheduled to be implemented by 2021. For this process, the city is working with contractors including software developers and consultants that will aid in to implementing the system.

The city council is happy with BCIT’s recently-named director

Heralding a turnaround in the department, city councilmembers praised Carter for turning around the department since being named as the permanent director of the department earlier this year. “Under your leadership it really has been a game changer,” said 5th District City Councilmember Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, who voiced support along with Costello for the budget increase being requested. “…I see your team…doing things that you’re not going to get accolades for because people don’t even notice it. But as a technology person, I notice it.”

311 and the changes to come

Like other city councilmembers, 3rd District City Councilman Ryan Dorsey also noted responsiveness by the department to make key changes and improvement. Dorsey was specifically pleased by an update to the 311 feedback system that he suggested being implemented. Now, feedback emails to users of 311 have direct links to service requests, instead of having to copy and paste a link, as users were required to do before the update.

But he also brought up a longstanding issue relevant to an intersection of BCIT and the Department of Transportation when it comes to open data for parking citations. Specifically, he called for data on violations for parking in a bus stop to be searchable. That way, the city could know where to direct resource.

“What I want to see is that every single time…a parking in a bus stop violation is issued, I want to see that searchable on open data based on council district, and based on police district and any other geographic basis that we can sort that data by,” Dorsey said. “We need to be able to know where to better deploy resources based on a high rate of certain violations and we also need to know where maybe the violation rate isn’t high just because we aren’t deploying resources there,” he said.

When it comes to work orders, the IT department has a cross-functional team led by smart cities strategist Kenya Asli that is dedicated to improving the flow of data between 311 and various government IT systems.

“That team has been meeting for the last several months and I think we’re starting to see the fruits of their labor in making improvements to workflow, making improvements to data and making improvements to the accuracy of the data that’s passed between systems.”

Carter said they are also working on consistent training for employees in the area of work orders, another area that Dorsey agreed was important.

After the crisis, then what?

At the end of his presentation, a BCIT slide called for a paradigm shift when it comes to funds allocated towards BCIT. The number increased following the 2019 ransomware attack. Going forward, Carter wants to lower the budget to something more sustainable, and said they have been working toward “a consistent and repeatable investment in IT.”

As the saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Watch the full hearing below:

Donte Kirby is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
Companies: City of Baltimore

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