Many San Francisco residents lack reliable access to the internet use a mobile device such as a cell phone as their primary form of access to online services. (Shutterstock)

Many San Francisco residents lack reliable access to the internet use a mobile device such as a cell phone as their primary form of access to online services. (Shutterstock)

SF struggles to make city services accessible on mobile devices

Just 20 percent deemed smartphone-friendly

The pandemic has underscored the need at City Hall to make its residential and business services more broadly accessible, including on mobile phones.

A recent citywide inventory identified 967 government services used by residents, businesses and visitors for things like filing a police report or paying taxes, but only 20 percent, or 194 of them, “are available online in a format that is mobile-friendly and accessible to those with disabilities,” according to the latest five-year Information and Communication Technology Plan pending review by the Board of Supervisors.

City Administrator Carmen Chu, who oversees the drafting of the plan, wants that to change.

“COVID-19 has shown how important technology is to reach our residents, especially when meeting in person is not an option,” Chu wrote in the plan. “With the clarity of learned experience, our mission is now to provide universally accessible services for every resident, business, and visitor.” Universally accessible means “built to be used on a mobile device.”

However, it is no small undertaking.

“Many of City services will need to be re-designed to meet the needs of every resident, especially our most vulnerable,” the plan said.

For those who lack internet access, a cell phone is often the main device used to stay connected. “Over 100,000 residents lack internet access at home and many rely on a single mobile device like a cell phone to access the internet,” the plan notes.

But there are fiscal challenges to achieving the goal. Chu noted that “the demand for technology investment continues to outpace available resources.”

The plan was drafted by the Committee on Information Technology, commonly referred to as COIT, which Chu oversees.

COIT is recommending an annual 5% boost in its usual tech funding allocation from the city budget by fiscal year 2022-23 “to support service redesign projects.”

“The competing needs of aging technologies and demand for modern services has reached a breaking point,” the plan said. “Under current trends, all existing COIT funding will be consumed by replacement of legacy systems.”

The body is only able to allocate $17 million in IT funding next fiscal year, a significant reduction from previous years, due to the downturn in the economy. City departments had requested a total of $36.9 million in general fund dollars to help fund 74 tech projects with a total cost of $51 million.

By comparison in fiscal year 18-19, COIT allocated $40 million in tech funding. COIT is recommending The City return to that level of investment within five years.

COIT is also calling on department heads to start submitting a “Digital Transformation roadmap” beginning with their fiscal year 2022-23 budget proposals. They would also provide regular updates on their status of making their services mobile accessible.

The plan prioritizes a redesign of job, housing, and permitting services, although it doesn’t make clear how long that would take or the total cost.

It identified 104 different housing support services spread across 12 different departments, only seven of which are designed for mobile devices. There are more than 500 permit and license types “that aggregate into 127 permitting services,” of which only 18 are designed for mobile services.

There were 88 different job and business development services identified across 23 departments “intended to strengthen workers and small businesses.”

“However, as we plan for the future, only a minority of them are designed to be accessible by mobile device or for disabled communities,” the plan said.

There is a project in the works to help job seekers.

The Office of Economic and Workforce Development intends to launch a $1.45 million online tech initiative called WorkforceLinkSF, which is being described as a “one-stop job-matching tool.”

It will allow employers to post jobs and job seekers to apply.

“Job seekers may apply for positions through the WorkforceLinkSF and track the progress of their applications,” a description of the project reads. “Employers can view resumes and hire candidates directly through the WorkforceLinkSF while tracking an applicant’s progress through the website.”

“Our goal is to have it launched this year,” OEWD spokesperson Gloria Chan told the San Francisco Examiner.

A recent mobile-friendly effort deemed a success in the plan was the launch in 2017 of DAHLIA, which moved the application process and listings for below-market-rate housing online.

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