The City of Santa Fe can't be that stupid, can it?

Almost nothing in this life irritates me more than when information technology (IT) personnel misuse their power. See, IT has its own language that scares non-IT people. I’ve always likened it to the old world when priests were necessary mediators between the Bible and the common people. Most common folk were illiterate, which necessitated the need for someone to read and translate the word of God.

Today, IT people are a lot like those priests: IT personnel are entrusted with technology matters that come with a certain amount of fear for non-program personnel simply because of non-IT personnel do not understand either the language or the behavior of technology. Here’s what bugs me the most though: In any other high-trust domains, there are boards and commissions that ensure checks and balances of power. For example, I am a licensed counselor. I had to be supervised during my training and present evidence of, not only domain-specific knowledge, but also of the application of that knowledge. Within the IT world, however, no such means of evidence is necessary to be an IT resource. Sure, there are computer science degrees and certifications, but if a person passes the classes and whatever certification tests they take, they are conferred paper credentials.

What those credentials don’t indicate is the level of trust needed between IT resources and non-IT resources. I’ve been building large-scale software applications for more than twenty (20) years and I KNOW that I can walk into any meeting with non-IT personnel and talk about failing flizberts and the non-IT personnel would gasp that we need to fix the flizberts. But, there’s no such thing as a flizbert.

To illustrate my frustration: On July 9th of 2013, Santa Fe’s newspaper, the Santa Fe New Mexican ran the headline, Auditor: City ITT chief spent $570K on unused equipment. The first paragraph of this article stated, “A new report by a city of Santa Fe internal auditor alleges a high-ranking city employee wasted taxpayer money by making questionable purchases of more than $573,000 in equipment that has never been fully operational.” The equipment in question was purchased in 2007, SIX YEARS BEFORE the audit. To me, this is the insanity that drives me nuts (the complete article is here and what’s alleged is sickening, though probably true).

Not only did nothing come of the audit (the Santa Fe New Mexican never followed up), but the ITT Director in question is STILL making procurement decisions on behalf of the City of Santa Fe. I don’t know, but I suspect that the ITT Director made up some bogus claim about flizberts and wizberts and City leadership became confused with his terms and figured he was doing a great job, after all.

But, in my opinion, he’s a symptom of an industry that has no strong form of checks and balances. No single person should be allowed to spend half a million dollars, inappropriately, and then be allowed to continue making uninformed decisions. But, as long as there is no one minding the henhouse, the fox will get away with all sorts of havoc.

I propose a governance board that vets all IT activity within the City of Santa Fe. The State of New Mexico has a governing body, the IT Project Certification Committee (PCC), that vets all large-scale IT projects. Yes, it’s a bureaucratic hassle, but the PCC forces IT personnel to have their proverbial ducks in a row. It’s a board composed of technical and non-technical personnel and reviews technology and expenditures around that technology for relevance and appropriateness. No sinlge IT leader can spend anything above $50,000 without PCC approval. The City of Santa Fe needs a similar governing body. It also needs a strong IT Director who knows the value of trust between IT and non-IT staff. Currentlt, the City has neither.

I suspect that the City of Santa Fe won’t do anything to change its ineffective and unethical IT Department. But it really should. Santa Fe is dying and if our leaders don’t act to get Santa Fe’s technological future healthy, the community will slip into the dark ages. IT, as an industry, needs checks and balances, and the City of Santa Fe’s IT Department needs a ground-up overhaul. But, really, the City of Santa Fe isn’t stupid enough do nothing, is it?