After spending nearly two years making policy primarily through virtual government, the City of Ottawa is ready to beef up its technology branch.
The city has been forced to move its council meetings and public consultations online, creating a legacy of the COVID-19 pandemic if the city permanently retains an option for the public to participate in the workings of the city hall remotely.
Meanwhile, the city doesn’t have a single information technology employee dedicated to mobile apps, even though the demand for information accessed through smartphones continues to grow.
Council is being asked to endorse more spending for IT staff.
However, a report submitted for approval by chief information officer Sandro Carlucci says new internal resources would cost less than outsourcing the work.
The request is for $1 million to be used for nine new hires, transferred from the budget assigned for buying professional IT services.
The average cost to taxpayers for each new position would be $112,000, which includes benefits, the report says. According to the report, this would be cheaper than contracting out the work, saving the city $888,000.
The city depends on its technology branch to provide internal and public-facing tech solutions. But the arrival of the pandemic put the heat on IT services to transition the municipal government to a remote workforce. The branch has had to lean heavily on private sector suppliers and consultants to handle the demand for services that required quick turnaround times.
Because so much new work has been farmed out recently, the city has been growing concerned about the knowledge and experience staying with the consultants rather than in-house tech staff.
It’s time to build up that knowledge inside the municipal government, the report says.
“Building the complement of permanent internal resources supports the cultural change occurring within (IT services), where we invest in our own staff, and support employee engagement as well as our commitment to excellence in service delivery,” the report states.
The new staff would help the branch fulfil commitments to creating a “digital city” and modernizing the municipal government’s ageing IT systems.
The city also wants more internal resources to handle IT security. It’s currently spending $340,000 annually on outsourcing security-related work, and the city believes two new positions can be created to address the demand.
The report argues that the IT branch’s available internal resources haven’t kept pace with the booming demand for new digital services. The branch is also facing a backlog of work related to accessibility assessments.
IT services have a budget of $76.6 million this year.
The 2022 city budget added the equivalent of one full-time position to IT services, bringing the number of posts to 296. The branch’s budget grew about five per cent in 2022 over the budget approved for 2021, though the actual spending in 2021 was projected last fall to be over budget by nearly $3 million.
The finance and economic development committee on Feb. 1 will be asked to recommend the council on hiring more IT staff.