January 31, 2012
Cambridge Information Technology Department Unable to Answer Basic Questions about its iReport App

Eight days ago, as part of preparing an NeighborMedia article on the iReport and MyPD apps, I asked Mary Hart, Chief Information Officer of the City of Cambridge some basic questions about the the app:

  • What’s the reaction been to the Cambridge iReport app?
  • What marketing has the city done to make citizens aware of
    the app? 
  • How many times has it been downloaded?
  • How many problems have been reported through it?
  • How has the app improved the delivery of city services?
  • Has the app decreased departments response time to problem reports? If so, by how much?
  • How much did this app cost the city?
  • Does the City own the source code to the app?
  • Are there plans to open up the API to allow other developers to find ways to add value?
  • You’ve recently added the reporting of unshoveled sidewalks to the app. What are your future plans for additional functionality?

If you walked through Kendall Square, knocked on the door of some mobile app startup company, and asked these questions, you’d get immediate answers. Someone would be living and breathing these numbers because they define the success of the effort.

In Cambridge, one of the core defenses of the management of the city is that its finances have been managed well. But, when it comes to the Information Technology budget, how would you know? Last year’s budget failed the basic test of informing the public of how its money is being spent. And public promises to open up IT planning have yet to be realized.

Not all of Cambridge is like this. The Police Department answered my (easier) questions in less than an hour and followed up to make sure I had what I needed.

I spend a lot of time in technology circles and they are astonished that Cambridge, home to MiT and Harvard, the birthplace of Facebook, with Microsoft and Google a major presence, does such a poor job with its own technology. We shouldn’t be astonished as the story is consistent and as plain as day.