Friday, February 14, 2014

What's the point of technology?

It's budget season here in London, and like many municipalities across the country, civic governments find themselves trying to rein in costs for the next year while still delivering a reasonable level of services to taxpayers.

It's a delicate balancing act that ultimately pleases no one. And I have a huge degree of admiration for both the elected officials who look for opportunities to eliminate waste, and the city staff members who bring years of expertise to the table, as well.

One of the dangers of the process revolves around the propensity, as things wind down to the final, critical chapters and everyone's frantically looking for Hail Mary savings, to pull out the wrong knife and cut the wrong thing for the wrong reason. So when I saw a councillor, Paul Van Meerbergen, call the city's information technology spending into question, my antennae immediately went up.

I don't mean to sound like a know-it-all, but this was no studied call to understand the value of IT. Instead it was little more than a simplistic grab for headlines, an easy-way-out attempt to get the masses to rise up and fight Big Bad IT managers with their Big Bad Budget Requests. By that logic, IT folks spend their time paying top dollar for tech toys that citizens don't want or need.

So I called hogwash, and was quoted in Chip Martin's piece in today's London Free Press: Expert warns against cutting tech spending. My take: IT is an investment in the city's future. And we've been deficient in this regard for so long that other cities in our region - hello, Waterloo - have been eating our lunch. As an example, Mr. Martin and I spoke about the city's website,, that until its long-delayed upgrade last year had languished in circa-1997 mediocrity for so long that I'm sure potential investors laughed out loud when they first saw it. A city that penny-pinches on tech is hardly a city that understands how to function - and compete - in today's digital economy.

Cool factor: Mr. Martin also interviewed Matt Brown for the article. He's currently the councillor for London's Ward 7 (coincidentally, the ward where I live) and is running for Mayor of our burg. It was an honour to be quoted alongside him, and an honour to add some perspective to a debate that, if mismanaged, promises to hold London even further back in the municipal competitiveness sweepstakes than it already is.

I'm not sure if Mr. Van Meerbergen reads this, but in case he does, I invite him to share his detailed assessment of why current levels of IT spend are "heavy" (his words), and how he plans to ensure London keeps pace with an even lighter allocation of resources to this critical pillar of civic strategy. In fact, while we're at it, I'll invite our Mayor, Joe Fontana, to share his thoughts, as well. Because digital era discussions should take place within a digital context. Over to you, gentlemen...

Update: I was going to tweet the link to this entry directly to both Mr. Van Meerbergen and Mr. Fontana. Unfortunately, Mr. Van Meerbergen doesn't seem to have a working Twitter account, while Mr. Fontana's account - @joefontana_pc - was created in 2010 to support his previous mayoralty campaign, and has one tweet to its credit. They're similarly absent from Facebook, or any other reasonably current online platform where citizens gather. I could email them ( and, but that doesn't seem to be in the spirit of public discussion. Likewise, I'm welcome to send a fax (the Mayor's # is 519.661.5308, while Mr. Van Meerbergen's is 519.661.5933) but I never bothered setting it up on my multifunction printer because, well, who the heck faxes anymore?

It's somewhat difficult to have a digital-era discussion when your elected officials haven't yet joined the digital era to begin with. In the end, maybe it's a sign we aren't spending enough on IT. And maybe we have the wrong people calling the shots on what constitutes proper spending and proper prioritization (we'll leave the $97,000 lawyer's bill for the Billy T affair for discussion another day.)

All told, it's something to keep in mind as the campaign for the November 2014 municipal election gathers speed.

1 comment:

rashbre said...

The buzz phrase around this London is 'Smart City' as more things get connected.