Otto Doll, a former CIO for the state of South Dakota, has led IT initiatives for the city of Minneapolis since early 2011. Minneapolis has outsourced IT services for more than a decade and is in the process of transitioning to a new supplier and bringing desktop and help desk services back in-house.
Doll spoke with StateTech Managing Editor Amy Schurr about overseeing the transition and expanding the use of the city’s Intelligent Operations Platform data analytics program.
DOLL: One of the things I like about it is that you’re even closer to the constituents that you serve. There’s a greater variety of services that are rendered at the local level and more things that a local government has to do on behalf of society and the community. And the political sphere is much smaller at the local level in terms of numbers of politicians to deal with.
DOLL: We’re highly outsourced. When I came on board, we outsourced our data center, networking, service desk and desktop support, which is quite a bit of the IT landscape. We’ve been doing this with a single provider since 2003.
We went out on the street and ultimately chose a different provider, and we’ve also brought back desktop services in-house as well as the help desk. We’ll be staffing that up with city employees. So we’re in a year of transition, to be completed by the end of the calendar year. That’s a major effort on our part.
DOLL: We found we will save considerable money doing it in-house and have more flexibility. Outsourcers establish a model for accomplishing these services, but it can be challenging or difficult to make much of a change in that model. What we learned and confirmed is that these two functions are the most lucrative areas of outsourcing. And finally, how much do they really know and understand about Minneapolis versus anyone else?
DOLL: When I came here, the staff size was 52 people to run IT for all departments. We’ve grown a little bit over the years. We’ll be adding 33 people for the service desk and desktop support. We’ve already begun hiring the supervisors, and then we’ll start working on the lower levels in those organizations.
We’re a PeopleSoft shop for financials, human resources and enterprise resource planning. We decided that when we migrated to version 9.2, we’re going to take a hard look and change a lot of our processes. So we’re overhauling our ERP world, and both the HR and financial sides will go live in August. That’s been a major project that’s really coming to fruition this year.
And we’re replacing a slew of homegrown systems and a few commercial systems with a new enterprise land management system. The first half will go live in the October time frame with the second half happening in the middle of 2016.
DOLL: We are looking for a shared information exchange that’s got advanced analytics that mimic the mental constructs that people or workers use in decision-making. When solving a problem, people will look for anomalies, patterns and correlations; they will prioritize their work. The intent of IOP is to create an analyst palate where we collect data not only from across city government, but externally. Think of the data as the paint that an analyst is trying to tell a story with, and analytics are the various paintbrushes. The richer the variety and extensiveness of that paint, then those brushes will allow analysts to do their thing better.
We want to ensure that any analyst in any part of the city has full access to data across the enterprise, because we don’t know necessarily what the best connections are. Our organizations are kind of like cocoons — they wrap their people, assets and data and everything else around themselves, and a lot of times their decision-making is only based on the information that exists within their cocoons. So this is a way to provide the ultimate virtual library of information.
DOLL: We were approached by IBM in late 2010 to participate in a first-of-a-kind research grant. We worked with IBM research to ultimately craft these analytics, then those were turned over to the vendor’s smarter cities platform. We stage data through a warehouse on our side that feeds it to the IBM cloud, then our analysts sign on to the cloud to take advantage of the analytics and other capabilities.
DOLL: Because we feed the system data every 15 minutes, then it’s somewhat real time. But you also get a view of what the future is going to be like. If someone is trying to determine how we’ll conduct spring street sweeping, it’s important to know the impact on the street structure based on the permits we’ve issued for construction cranes and dumpsters, traffic patterns and what events are taking place. As staff are trying to figure out how they’re going to apply their resources to the city sweep in the spring, then they have a much better understanding of the obstacles to achieving their assigned task.
The city feels most violations in rental housing are incurred by a few landlords, so you can correlate data to determine the characteristics of a bad landlord, then take that pattern and apply it to all your landlords of record. That gives you the ability to potentially spot a bad landlord sooner, and follow up with those landlords.
The possibilities are unlimited.
DOLL: We used to call it closing the digital divide, but we really feel it’s about digital equity. The survey is more extensive than what we have found in most places. There are three things that we’re trying to judge: One is obviously access to the Internet. We’re also trying to look at the degree of digital literacy across the households in the city. It’s one thing to have Internet access, but do people feel comfortable finding a job online or do people feel comfortable helping their household with medical issues? And finally, are people truly embracing the digital society? You start to see some correlations that certain minority groups really don’t see the value, and then you see that the percentage of the population that is online is significantly lower than in other parts of the city.
So far, we’ve been able to generate over 3,000 responses every time we’ve run the survey.
We break the data down by our 11 communities and 13 wards. Depending on where you live, the digital literacy will change dramatically. Also, in some parts of the city, we still have people dialing in versus others who are on fiber connections and everywhere in between.
DOLL: Most people who are online can get on the Internet — they feel comfortable searching for stuff. But only about 51 percent of the population feels comfortable looking for a job online. Now that’s well beyond the poor within the city.
We’ve got a lot of people teaching others how to get on the Internet or work with a word processor, but in reality, most people who are online feel comfortable doing these tasks. It’s not that some people don’t need that education, but it’s not what the majority of folks need to be trained in.
DOLL: We mail around 12,000 paper surveys. We were conducting it yearly, but will survey less frequently in the future.
DOLL: What’s kind of interesting is that the use of online city services and automated services is still pretty low. There are some functions that get quite a bit of use — for example, pet licenses, but we’ve still got a lot of people who show up at our animal control center in person to go get their pet license. It’s not that they don’t know that it’s available online; it’s what they choose to do.
In our metro transit world, you can buy passes. But a third of the ridership still pays with cash. Everyone talks about how people want to use Apple Pay for the bus, but what you find it’s still a relatively small percentage of people who do things electronically.
Our challenge is that we have to have these multiple service channels. But in reality, just because we put something online doesn’t mean that everybody is going to flock to it and do it online.