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New York City Just Radically Changed Who Manages Its IT Projects

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, April 24 2012

For the first time, Mayor Michael Bloomberg's New York City now has a single person responsible for overseeing all of its information technology operations.

Rahul N. Merchant, a former executive at financial services and technology firms, starts today as New York City's first chief information and innovation officer, the city announced. Merchant will report directly to the mayor and will be responsible for the city's IT infrastructure, making him in effect the alpha and omega for city IT across all agencies. Previously, one city department — the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications — was responsible for maintaining many core IT projects, such as a city wireless network and an ongoing project to consolidate data servers, but agency IT operations were more independent. Merchant will oversee information technology development and management across all city agencies.

“By bringing the City’s IT infrastructure and development under one office, we can ensure we are using best practices across agencies, leveraging the City’s enormous IT infrastructure to our maximum advantage and holding contractors accountable for delivering results," Bloomberg announced in a press release. "Rahul is a seasoned executive who has proven himself time and again as a leader and an innovator in the industry. He is going to do an outstanding job as New York City’s first Chief Information and Innovation Officer and we are excited to add him to our talented team.”

The announcement follows a series of negative reports about city IT projects. The headlining act remains CityTime — a new payroll system that, while now in place, cost over $628 million and resulted in allegations of fraud and kickbacks — but the New York Times reported April 13, as then-DoITT Commissioner Carole Post was leaving the city, that she was departing after clashing with other officials over her department's performance on core IT projects. Post moved on to a position at New York Law School. A DoITT spokesman, Nicholas Sbordone, has responded that DoITT's overall performance was not below par.

City Hall had previously seemed focused on citizen-facing technology, hiring tech entrepreneur Rachel Sterne as chief digital officer in 2011, revisiting how agencies interact with citizens online and beginning a citywide website redesign process. Concurrently, Post and other city officials, some city lawmakers, and activists were wrapping up a longtime effort to change how City Hall stores and shares its data on the city. Legislation that maps out that change passed the City Council in February and was later signed by the mayor.

City officials couldn't yet provide a set timeline on when Merchant's DoITT commissioner title kicks in. Merchant, who was chief technology officer at Merrill Lynch during the firm's efforts to rebuild its worldwide infrastructure after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and left in 2006 to join Fannie Mae, will earn $225,000/year in his new role. He's joining the city from Exigen Capital, according to the city, where he led the private equity firm's technology investments.

This post has been updated.