The Boston IT Party

The Boston IT Party

Though he is Boston's first CIO, Burlingame inherits an IT program that many cities would envy. After all, in Governing's national survey, Boston ranked higher in IT than 31 of the 35 other cities, including Baltimore; Columbus, Ohio (about the same size as Beantown); Los Angeles; San Jose, California; and Houston. Dallas was at the bottom of the heap with a D+ (see "Big D, Little IT"). The only cities ranked higher than Boston were Minneapolis, Phoenix, Honolulu and Philadelphia.

Burlingame's IT operating budget is $US11 million, which compares favourably to other cities its size. Columbus's Information Services budget in 2000 was $US9.7 million; Minneapolis's was $US15 million. Boston's department has about 82 employees, compared with Columbus's 107 IT workers.

Burlingame also inherits a respectable Web site as well as something more valuable tucked away in the basement of city hall: a one-hop link to a major regional Internet backbone. Before Burlingame was hired, "The city worked with local [ISPs] to put in a metropolitan exchange that we host," he says. "So we get a 100MB pipe of our own, piped straight into our infrastructure." Hosting a metropolitan exchange (MXP) is quite a prize; Burlingame thinks the next-closest MXP is in New York City. provides the usual informational services - an event calendar, contact information for Boston officials, permit application forms and so on. It also lets residents pay parking tickets, and excise and real estate taxes online - a clear if small step toward interactivity that Menino and Burlingame hope to build on. Moreover, Boston recently retooled its human resources and financial services system with a major PeopleSoft implementation. The new tools won special praise from Governing magazine because before the implementation, these departments were a decades-old mess. Payroll alone was handled by three different systems.

The upgrade is not an unqualified success, however. There is rumbling in some quarters that the Accenture (formerly Andersen Consulting) consultants helping to implement the project have overstayed their welcome and ought to be ushered out of town. Ross calls the PeopleSoft implementation "a huge HR project laden with consultants". Indeed, Boston's IT budget shows a steadily escalating expenditure for contract analysts; the department spent about $US538,000 on IT analysts in 1999 and has budgeted more than twice that - $US1.1 million - for 2001.

Burlingame concedes that weaning off Accenture will be a challenge, but he commits to no time line. And Ross agrees that the new CIO "may need to get some small victories before tackling that one". An Accenture spokesman says the company has contracted with the city "into the summer of 2002" and declines further comment on how long the engagement will last. In the background (but never for long) hovers a mayor who wants not just results, but sexy results. From efforts to reduce the number of students per classroom computer to teacher technology training, to community tech centres, to computer kiosks, Menino has publicly declared an ambitious suite of programs. Publicly, Burlingame, who calls the mayor his top asset, says that's fine by him. "This guy knows the technology is important. He doesn't think of it just as making the city run more efficiently."

Boston's solid IT foundation may be a bit like a good-news-bad-news joke for Burlingame. On the one hand, he doesn't have to clean up the technology wasteland faced by CIOs in many other states and municipalities. On the other, the relatively easy work is done, and what remains - creating a truly unified structure - will mean eliminating decentralised fiefdoms. The department's major initiatives for 2001 include completing a wide area network to link various agencies. According to the city budget, 87 per cent of city buildings were on this WAN in 2000; the goal for 2001 is 100 per cent.

The city has budgeted almost $US5.5 million to complete a new system that will unite dispatch services for the police, fire and EMS departments. Once that is finished, city officials hope, there will be no more senseless deaths due to departmental squabbling.

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