StateTech spoke with Carole Post, commissioner of the New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications and city CIO, about the organization's recent achievements and future goals.
STATETECH: Can you tell me about the CITIServ initiative?
POST: CITIServ is the IT infrastructure consolidation program. We have more than 50 unique data centers operating across the city that range from very sophisticated and modern to closets with servers and fans. Our intention is to achieve a state of good repair across the city as well as economies with a much more scalable environment — safe, secure, operating at optimal efficiency.
Similarly, we have had a very federated approach to e-mail hosting. We are nearing completion of hosting all e-mail from a central environment, which achieves tremendous economies.
We also want to roll out services. We have a 24x7 service desk with sophisticated ticketing and tracking tools. We want to make that available to all city agencies to deliver responses, as well as to track and record incidents on a real-time basis, especially for those agencies that wouldn't otherwise be able to afford or build that out. It's almost a 311 model. There's no reason to have dozens of uniquely operating call centers or service centers, so we are going to bring those into a more centralized environment.
STATETECH: Are you hosting e-mail from the data center or using cloud e-mail?
POST: We are hosting it in the data center. But as part of our Microsoft arrangement, we did secure a number of licenses for the Office 365 cloud environment and will be deploying those in 2012.
STATETECH: Does CITIServ involve network upgrades?
POST: It does. Our fiber network has not had a significant refresh in about 10 years; the upgrade has been under way for about a year now. It's on schedule, and an integral part of hosting the enterprise environment is having a reliable, hardened and modern network backbone.
STATETECH: What has been the greatest challenge to consolidation?
POST: The natural challenges with consolidation are often less technical than policy driven. Migrating from a very federated and autonomous environment to a more centralized — and in some cases less autonomous — environment is probably the biggest challenge.
We faced that head-on by firmly asserting that the consolidation is about achieving economies where there are economies to be achieved. Application development and functions that are unique to a city agency's business model will remain with that agency. We wanted to preserve a certain level of autonomy and independence at each agency so they would be able to fulfill their business needs.
We still have many agencies with legacy systems and a lot of older applications. We have every make, model and color right now. We can put them all in one place, but if you are still running every version of every potential application, you haven't really achieved as much efficiency as you need to.
STATETECH: So application modernization is more challenging to pull off.
POST: One of the trickiest parts is that you have to change the tires while the car is going at 100 miles per hour. Most of the applications are mission-critical in some way and support an operation that rarely is just 9-to-5. We have done a number of transformations but there are thousands — tens of thousands — of applications across the city. You have to treat each one delicately; it's time-consuming and complicated. We've had some incredible successes in the past six months where we've migrated applications over. They are now running seamlessly in our environment, and the agency is receiving faster response times and better uptime. We have to keep chipping away at it.
STATETECH: How is the automated meter-reading project going?
POST: It's probably one of the most successful uses of the NYCWiN network, and it happened by accident. The NYCWiN network was being built out at about the same time that our Department of Environmental Protection was seeking to evolve through automated meter reading. They were contemplating building a network in order to support their effort. We said, "You don't need to build a separate network, this is your network." It's been a marriage made in heaven.
They've got almost 800,000 buildings riding over the network. It used to be that as a customer of DEP, you would receive a quarterly bill that was an estimate of your water usage. Today, you can receive readings up to four times a day of what your exact usage is and what your anticipated bill will be. Even better, you can receive alerts if your usage seems to deviate largely from what your norm has been. So if someone has a water leak while he's away on vacation, these things are getting caught. It's been an incredible success.
STATETECH: Mobility is changing the way in which workers do their jobs. How are you focusing on that?
POST: DoITT enables and supports agencies that seek unique solutions for their business model. While many of our agencies have mobile workforces, they often operate in very different ways, and so the tools that they require might be very different. We're here to set a baseline for them through the use of the wireless network and to explore which devices work best. They can take it from there and tailor it to fit their needs accordingly.
STATETECH: What progress has the city made in transparency?
POST: We're enthusiastic about leading the nation in open government. Making data available to the public in easily accessible ways is a hallmark of the Bloomberg philosophy of open government, which ultimately translates into accountability.
We recently relaunched our data portal as NYC Open Data and have almost 1,000 data sets populated there. The portal is a robust marketplace for accessing that data in dozens of different formats, with mapping capabilities and, most important, with APIs that we didn't have before.
We're in the third round of our NYC BigApps competition: NYC Open Data houses the source material for application developers, techies, engineers and hobbyists who may be interested in pulling data off of our portal, mashing it up and coming up with interesting, unique applications. At relatively no cost to taxpayers, we get the benefit of dozens of novel and incredibly useful applications that are deployed as a result of these competitions.
An additional layer is that we're working with partner cities across the country, like Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., — to unify the way that we make data available.
It symbolizes what Mayor Bloomberg has been espousing since he took office here: Government is here to serve the public. The data and the information that we have belongs to the public, and we should make it as easily accessible to them as we can.