Mayors change, CIO endures
Mayors change, CIO endures
BY DONNA YOUNG
Interim CIO Karl Bortnick oversees all IT projects for the city of Philadelphia.
| GCN STAFF
Political visions come and go with each administration. Budget priorities shift. Policies evolve. And strategic plans swing with the latest trends.
Government information technology offices must be flexible.
Karl Bortnick should know. He has been in public service with the city of Philadelphia for 23 years, and has seen the transitions of five mayoral administrations.
As interim chief information officer, Bortnick oversees the Mayor's Office of Information Services (MOIS) for Mayor John Street, who took office last year.
'I have seen generations of technology from installation of systems to replacement, from batch processing to Web-enabled applications,' Bortnick said. 'The biggest change I have seen is how technology has moved from being an operational tool in the 1980s, or what I call a tactical weapon, to the strategic partner in government and business that it is today.'
Bortnick has served as Information Center manager, Information and Planning Center director, systems development and planning director, internal services program manager and chief program manager.
Before joining the city, Bortnick was a Fulbright French Government Scholar and taught history of philosophy and Anglo-American studies at the University of Clermont-Ferrand in France.
Bortnick said his transition from philosopher to directing IT strategy for one of America's oldest cities was based on logic'literally.
While teaching in France in the 1970s, Bortnick was hired through the French Ministry of Education to act as a consultant for Landis & Gyr Communications of Geneva. The Swiss company purchased a new IBM Corp. system but soon discovered none of the company's employees knew how to use it.
Bortnick, who is fluent in French and Italian, said he was not sure he could succeed.Background backup
'I'm a very mathematical person and because of my background in logic, analysis and language I was able to figure out how the system worked,' he said. 'That was the beginning of my interest in computers.'
Bortnick directs all IT projects for the city and said he works to meet the technological needs of his customers in the most cost-effective way.
'What we do has to be meaningful to the community; we are in their service,' he said. 'But we also have to be economical as part of our commitment to service.'
One of the city's latest projects is to implement a $1.7 million geospatial data warehouse. MOIS is developing a Web application that will let city staff access from one central server information about roads, sidewalks, buildings, fire hydrants, storm inlets, zoning, land parcels and districts.
Jim Querry, geographic information systems program manager, said the spatial data layers can be combined with other city databases to perform crime and economic analyses, create maps and perform related functions.
The departments of Water, Streets, Records and Planning will be the main users. But other departments such as Health, Police and Fairmount Park, the largest managed urban park in the country, also will use the system, he said.
The Fairmount Park Department not only oversees the 14-square-mile park, but also manages the city's trees.
'They can use the geospatial data to conduct inventory on trees in the city,' Querry said. 'If the park gets a report that a tree is dead and is about to fall, they can check the database and validate the location, check when the tree last received maintenance and learn the tree's history.
'The system can also be used to ensure that when a crew is dispatched to a site, if there are other trees in the area that need attending to the crew can take care of them on the same trip.'
The city uses ArcInfo versions 7 and 8, ArcView versions 3 and 8, and ArcExplorer versions 2 and 3 from Environmental Systems Research Institute Inc. of Redlands, Calif., running on a quad-processor 500-MHz Hewlett-Packard N4000 server with 2G of RAM under Microsoft Windows NT.
The city uses ESRI's ArcIMS and MapObjectsIMS to develop GIS Web applications.
Bortnick said the city plans to provide the GIS information to the public via the city's Web site.