Photo by Greg Pearson courtesy of the city’s Mayor’s Office of Information Technology.
“What I personally need is a tiny bit of patience,” said Chris Tonjes while addressing the crowd at Wednesday’s Baltimore TechBreakfast in Mt. Washington.
Tonjes, who as of Wednesday had been Baltimore city’s new CIO for 37 days, said that while he’s eager to work with the tech community on several of the city’s IT initiatives — including beefing up Baltimore’s existing open data portal — said that many of the projects on his to-do list will take time:
- Tonjes said the city’s emergency communications network is old, and the Mayor’s Office of Information Technology is “coming up with a financing model to fix that.”
- MOIT is also replacing Baltimore’s 911 computer-aided dispatch program, which will be done in two phases. Phase one, Tonjes said, will begin six months from now.
- The city’s 311 CRM system will be replaced — although in what way precisely is unknown still — and that will happen over the next three to six months.
He also bemoaned the state of two data centers the city now owns. “They’re not stable environments for anything,” he said. “One of those data centers is something I haven’t seen in 20 years.” Tonjes told the crowd that the mainframes the city has are so old, MOIT is left to scouring vintage computer stores for parts.
“Nobody really understood that the life cycle of any piece of technology is just like the life cycle of a house or a car,” he said.
However, Tonjes thinks he has a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to rebuild a city IT department from the ground up. Because much of the city’s IT staffers are part-time contractors, and their contract is soon up, MOIT needs to hire roughly 50 people over the next couple months, which should give Tonjes the chance to hire people from outside the world of city government — people who can perhaps help imbue MOIT with the sort of “startup mentality” Tonjes wants to bring to municipal IT.
“I’m used to moving much faster,” said Tonjes, who, before working with Washington, D.C.’s IT department (where he was before Baltimore), spent 20 years doing private-sector IT consulting. He apparently told fellow staffers during one of his first staff meetings that “we are not having a baby whale.”
One bright spot for city residents is a $2 million Mayor’s Innovation Fund grant MOIT successfully applied for, which will be used to construct an overbuild of the city’s Inter-County Broadband Network to extend municipal Wi-Fi to parts of the city that are currently without broadband access.
As to his commitment to Baltimore? Tonjes appears to be here for the long haul.
“The things that I have to do are going to take me awhile,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere.”