City computers could hamper services, study says

February 01, 2000|By Gerard Shields | Gerard Shields,SUN STAFF

Baltimore government's failure to adequately upgrade its computer system could hamper attempts to improve city services, a national study warns.

The study, released yesterday by Governing magazine, also raises concern that financial-management computer systems installed by Baltimore have failed to serve the city well enough.

"Without them in place, high performance is not likely to occur," Patricia W. Ingraham, director of the government performance project for Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, said of the management systems studied. "With them in place, both performance and its effective measurement become more likely."

The study of the nation's largest 35 cities was conducted by Syracuse for the magazine. City officials, including Mayor Martin O'Malley, acknowledged the problems yesterday, saying that plans are in place to improve computer coordination between city departments and bring Baltimore up to speed.

In April, Baltimore hired an information technology officer, Elliot Schlanger. Schlanger told Governing that much of the delay in efforts to upgrade city computers was due to Y2K preparedness efforts. Any update of the city computer system is about six months behind schedule, Schlanger said, putting upgrades on track by year's end.

"No excuses, we're late," Schlanger said. "But there's sufficient evidence that this city is taking the proper steps in terms of information technology to bootstrap itself into the new millennium."

In his State of the City address last week, O'Malley pledged to use computers to track resident complaints and hold supervisors accountable for addressing them.

The city uses a system, known as CompStat, in two police districts to track crime. O'Malley hired the creator of the New York system, Jack Maple, to expand the policing strategy here. O'Malley said yesterday Maple has agreed to help extend the system to other departments, such as public works.

"I have become increasingly convinced that these same principles -- accurate and timely intelligence, rapid deployment of resources, effective strategies and relentless follow-up -- can and will be applied to the management of all city agencies and departments," O'Malley said.

For computer capability, the city earned a C grade, slightly lower than the C+ national average.

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