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City IT boss gets big bucks? Hooray!

Fraser Smith BigWow, big headline, big scandal? Do we need to be thinking about a recall?

Did you know the new information technology guy pulls down more than the mayor, more than the police commissioner, more than the state’s attorney?

Maybe you did know. Maybe you’ve noticed the importance of computers and systems designed with 2017 in mind and not 1990, which is what we have now at City Hall and associated public entities.

The real scandal here, then, would be hiring some bargain basement geek.

Mayor Catherine Pugh should be congratulated for accepting the criticism she feared and was sure to get for recognizing that the city needs talent in this job.

She hesitated for some time resisting advisers who worry that the city cannot serve the taxpayers if it cannot depend on its  computers. In fact, she’s gotten mostly the equivalent of, “You go, girl.”

We are told that a billion-dollar-a-year business or government cannot get the best from its departments and workforce without a functioning computer system.

And if the systems and the talent to run them are available, why don’t we have them?

In a world where technology revolutions come along constantly, Baltimore’s system bumbles along on four-decade old equipment.

I’m guessing you get what you pay for, in IT as elsewhere. Do I remember correctly that the state looked for a  bargain with its Obamacare rollout and paid the price?

The new IT chief

Frank Johnson, the new man, comes to us after a long career at Intel, a pretty good company. He claims to have done what the city wants for hundreds of companies.

The city, with all its other woes, can’t afford a computer system that deserves the name “system.” The mayor predictably says the new man and his work will save the city money. Many would be happy if it simply made the city operate efficiently.

Critics already suggest Baltimore can’t help itself — and running with sub-par computers would add weight to their claims.

Comptroller Joan Pratt seems to have the right take on this situation. She told The Sun she has confidence Johnson will be held accountable.

Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young had no criticism. A spokesman said his boss is aware that talent doesn’t come cheap.

The city already pays premium salaries for work it knows residents want: schools that strive to produce students who qualify for good jobs or even higher education; a tourism boss who can help keep the hotels and the convention center full.

So, in these cases we see what the city is paying. Apart and aside from the new man’s salary, what are we actually getting for the IT man?

What’s involved

What is information anyway?

An article in Harvard Business Review referred to information technology as consisting of three basic parts: computational data processing, decision support, and business software.

To what end, though? Maybe that varies from business to business.

IT departments are said to have responsibility in areas like computer tech support, computer networks, database administration, business software deployment and information security.

The term has come to include software development, system architecture and project management.

So get ready for stories about new equipment purchases.

Processing huge amounts of data to produce useful business intelligence requires large amounts of processing power, sophisticated software, and human analytic skills.

An online description of IT says teamwork and communication skills have also become essential in most businesses to manage the complexity of IT systems. Many IT professionals are responsible for providing services to business users who are not trained in computer networking or other information technologies but who are instead interested in simply using IT as a tool to get their work done efficiently.

Really?  What a relief.

“I need somebody that’s a visionary, someone who understands the future is technology,” Pugh said in July, according to The Sun.

She will also need someone who can translate IT into English.


C. Fraser Smith is a writer in Baltimore. His column appears Fridays in The Daily Record. He can be reached at

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