Upgrading and centralizing an aging, splintered information technology system will be just one job for San Francisco’s new chief information officer, a position that some say lacks the power needed to give The City’s IT a meaningful reboot.
Jon Walton, acting CIO since 2011, departs Friday to become San Mateo County’s new CIO on Monday.
Walton oversaw a 200-person department with a $75 million budget and also had a say — though not a final one — in the roughly $250 million The City spends on technology annually. He also inherited the unenviable task of figuring out how to centralize a city’s IT that has semi-independent CIOs in individual departments, buys and licenses software piecemeal, and had hundreds of individual data centers “when we need one,” as Board of Supervisors President David Chiu said at an October hearing.
When Walton began, city payroll and accounting functions were performed on decades-old software, there were hundreds of independently running data closets and servers across The City, and many departments’ IT staffs performed tasks that could have been done by one centralized department.
Things have improved, with most of San Francisco’s payroll and accounting software switching from a decades-old system to a new one in the past year. Other upgrades are ongoing, such as putting email users on a single platform and consolidating city data into two main servers housed at the airport and 200 Paul St.
Walton said Wednesday the email project took longer than expected. “I’d like to have stayed to see that one wrapped up,” he said.
In February, The City will begin interviewing candidates who have applied for the $200,000-a-year job, according to the Mayor’s Office. In the meantime, Deputy City Administrator Kenneth Bukowski will serve as acting CIO, mayoral spokeswoman Christine Falvey said.
Before The City’s IT can be brought into the 21st century, the job of CIO itself needs to be upgraded, an August grand jury report said. Mayor Ed Lee has yet to inject the “culture shock” necessary to shake up the status quo, the report said.
Part of the problem is institutional. San Francisco’s municipal IT is run as a sort of confederation. Walton, as CIO, chaired COIT, the Committee on Information Technology, which issued recommendations for individual city department CIOs.
This loose and confused organizational structure kept San Francisco stuck in the 1990s technologically, and the grand jury report itself — titled “Déjà vu All Over Again” — found that much of what ailed The City’s IT had been unchanged for years.
San Francisco could save tens of millions of dollars on software alone if piecemeal licensing and purchasing were centralized, the report said.
Expecting a city to be run like a private corporation is unrealistic, Walton said.
“For that to happen, it’s not so much about the technology; there needs to be a major culture shift,” he said, adding, “I struggle to see how a government can be run like a corporation and still benefit the public.”
Other jobs related to data and IT won’t be the CIO’s responsibility. The City took on a chief innovation officer last year to oversee an open-data project intended to encourage developers to build apps, and a chief data officer also is being hired.