Aug 16 2018

Baltimore to Undertake Major IT Modernization Program

Charm City’s plan includes centralizing IT, moving to modern infrastructure, aggressively adopting the cloud and developing a robust broadband plan.

Baltimore has big plans when it comes to its technology future.

Late last month, the city released its first-ever strategic plan for IT, laying out its vision for how to “transform the city’s digital infrastructure, empower everyone in our community with technology and grow Baltimore’s tech industry and workforce,” in the words of Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh.

The plan, which arrived in draft form in February, has been reviewed and signed off by the city council and City Hall, has five major areas of focus. Baltimore CIO Frank Johnson tells Government Technology that the five areas include:

  • Centralizing IT via the creation of a new organizational structure
  • Modernizing human resources and financial systems by moving to an enterprise resource planning/Software as a Service system
  • Continuing to modernize the city’s IT infrastructure
  • Adopting a “cloud-first, cloud-only” posture at city agencies where currently less than 20 percent of workloads are consolidated and virtualize
  • Designing a “very robust” 10- to 20-year broadband and communication plan

Underpinning all of that transformation is a need to invest more in technology modernization. Baltimore’s City Office of Information & Technology notes in the report that the city currently invests 2.5 percent of its operating budget, or about $65 million, on IT, yet IT enables and supports services and operations funded by the other 97.5 percent of the budget.

BCIT compared the city’s IT budget against industry benchmarks for similar-sized state and local governments, and the results show that the city invests “proportionally less on IT than most of its peers.” To match average state and local government benchmarks, the city’s annual IT budget would have to increase to the $102 million to $122 million range. However, the report says, “given the current state of IT in the city, the risk of not increasing the investment to levels over the industry average is tremendous and necessary to both catch up and expand infrastructure and capabilities outlined in this plan.” To match the 75th percentile of state and local government industry benchmarks, the city’s IT budget would have to increase to the $128 million to $156 million range.

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Baltimore Wants to Change Its IT Governance Model

Currently, the report says, the city’s IT operation is spread among individual departments, which often operate their own internal IT organizations, infrastructures and applications to meet their own unique needs. The report says this fosters independence, but also inefficiency that the city cannot support financially. It also forces departments to often “make trade-off decisions and tolerate sub-par quality and/or only implement what their budgets can support.”

Additionally, city leadership is “unable to take a holistic view of IT and see where funds are being spent and how individual investments line up with Mayoral goals and priorities.” Such a structure also stifles innovation because of one or another department’s “preference to invest in the operation of existing legacy systems instead of new and more expensive systems that could benefit other departments.”

BCIT will work with department leadership and staff to “conduct a comprehensive assessment of their IT assets, operations, service needs and concerns to better determine what functions and operations should be centralized for the benefit of the enterprise.” However, a key goal of the plan is that core IT services will be centralized into BCIT and “operated at high levels of quality, security, resiliency and performance,” and BCIT will “model enterprise IT infrastructure, services and support using the best examples in city departments as a baseline and industry best practices as a guide.”

Johnson tells Government Technology that conversations with department heads about the consolidation and IT governance changes have started and that the process is “well underway,” but he says BCIT will also work with partners and philanthropists to identify areas “where they can help underwrite and invest.”

BCIT says it must establish an Enterprise Portfolio Management Office and demand management capabilities. “The creation of an EPMO will also bring visibility into IT investments and highlight opportunities for innovation and process improvement when, for example, costly existing technology is not aligned with the current strategy,” the plan states.

Cloud Is Key to Baltimore’s IT Future

Another key aspect of the plan is to shift the city to using more cloud services. The plan notes that the city’s physical data center infrastructure “prevents it from pursuing digital transformation” and does not enable data integration and analytics, Internet of Things-enabled smart city and other strategic objectives.

Much of the city’s IT infrastructure is purposely built for individual departments, limiting efficient reuse and scalability, the plan says. The plan definitely sings the praises of moving to the cloud.

“Public cloud providers offer world-class internal operations and security that are costly and difficult to replicate,” the plan says. “They offer a pay-for-use model that allows instant, even automatic scalability to increase computing power at times of peak demand, while reducing capacity when demand is low and is not just for raw computing power. The cloud offers rapid deployment of the most advanced capabilities, platforms and software without the need to build the physical infrastructure or learn how to operate, secure and maintain the underlying technology stack.”

The city must move to a hybrid cloud model and “make the best use of existing city-managed infrastructure,” the plan says, while “also taking advantage of scalable, reliable and secure public cloud services that provide the foundation for integrated enterprise applications, platforms and data.”

BCIT says it will work with agencies throughout the city government to “transition to prioritize cloud computing opportunities and will participate in EPMO demand management and portfolio management activities to maintain alignment with business needs.”

As new applications are created and modernized, the plan says, enterprise cloud services experts from the city and its vendor partners will “ensure a cohesive integration strategy.”

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