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A Bureaucracy Of The Clouds

The CIO for the City of Los Angeles wants to migrate city workers to Google Apps, thereby sending many of the government's day-to-day functions into the cloud.

The CIO for the City of Los Angeles wants to migrate city workers to Google Apps, thereby sending many of the government's day-to-day functions into the cloud.The initial plan calls for over half of all city employees to start using Gmail, and then start swapping files, subpoenas, and whatever else civil servants spend their days producing. The plan is supposed to save LA major bucks, and Google is rumored to have offered nice kick-backs if enough folks use it.

Is migrating bureaucratic paperwork into the cloud the same thing as making it more efficient?

Don't get me wrong, I love technology, and the fact that my phone contacts update automatically when I enter something on my computer, or I can access files via any Internet connection, is totally cool. I also don't believe that technology is necessarily agnostic: it channels uses instead of simply enabling it, so amplified music is written and performed differently than acoustic. The ability to shoot video affects what people choose to express, not just how they do it. Cars change a lot in our lives other than making it easier to get from Point A to Point B.

So I presume that the intention is to not just save money (and trees), but that the technology will somehow improve the processes behind LA's civic paperwork-turned-electronic documents. It'll somehow enable departments to share information and make better, faster decisions.

But this reminds me of the promises of the CRM revolution late last Century...I'm thinking LA translated into the set of the movie "Brazil," only the ducts have been replaced with wireless routers.

I know that the easy complaint about the CIO's plan would be to ruminate on the possibility that Google will own all the information in the world (i.e. the city would outsource both its collective memory, and its future ability to function). While that makes for an entertaining philosophical conversation, I think the bigger, more pressing question is simply why do it?.

Of all the things Los Angeles has to worry about, I can't believe the need to supercharge its bureaucracy is at the top of the list?

If it wants to manage information more efficiently and effectively, I think the IT committee should consider two distinctly lower-tech solutions before writing the Google contract: arbitrarily cut paperwork by a third, and pick 3 departments and task them with sharing information using every existing means possible. Phones, email, manila folders and, gasp, even face-to-face meetings.

I say produce some tangible results with improved processes before you start looking at the clouds.

Jonathan Salem Baskin writes the Dim Bulb blog and is the author of Branding Only Works On Cattle.

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