NYPD geek: how one CIO turned around the Boys in Blue

End users with guns weren't the biggest problem facing the NYPD's first CIO. Jim Onalfo found working for the New York Police Department a very different experience

Jim Onalfo had already retired after a long IT career, which included more than 30 years as CIO of Kraft Foods, when he got a call from Nicholas Donofrio, IBM’s executive vice president for innovation and technology, in 2003. Donofrio asked Onalfo to consider a job with the New York Police Department (NYPD), after he and former IBM chief executive Lou Gerstner were contacted by New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly.

Kelly “needed to upgrade what had been an under-invested area for many years,” Onalfo says. “I agreed to come.” And for the past three years, Onalfo has been deputy commissioner and CIO of the NYPD.

The NYPD was recently recognised for its data warehouse at the Computerworld US Honours ceremony, in the government and non-profit organization category. After the ceremony, Onalfo shed some light on the project.

What skills did you learn at Kraft that you were able to bring to the NYPD?

CIO skills. If you are a CIO, and understand how a CIO does his job, then you know how to bring all the right techniques of a business into programmes to get them done successfully.

When you took this job, what were some of the initial tasks you had to do to get the NYPD’s IT organisation where you wanted it to be?

It still has a long way to go, but the most important thing was to put together a strategic IT plan, and get that plan approved by Commissioner Kelly and Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg. That’s the real key — the programme. However, we are a dramatically understaffed IT group, so we used a lot of outside companies to do the projects. We have 329 IT people and, by industry standards, we should have over 2,000. The police department is a 53,000-person organisation, so supporting it with 329 [workers] is not necessarily the way it’s done in the commercial world.

Tell me more about the data warehouse project that was honoured recently.

That is a vision of Commissioner Kelly’s. That’s important. His vision was to use technology to help detectives do their job better. So he said to me: “I need you to build me a real-time crime centre.” That encompassed an IBM crime computer warehouse that they built, the forensic detective tools built by Dimension Data.

It [the crime centre] has 18 Mitsubishi screens all networked together and 24 desks, and we have 40 detectives who work there 24/7 — all with six to nine months of training in all the advanced data-mining tools that we have developed.

What do you think you accomplished for the city?

It’s been the most important thing I’ve ever done in my life. It’s helped the police officers get their jobs done. It’s helping the citizens of New York. There are so many things. We brought the infrastructure up to date, and now we’re trying to bring all the applications up to date.

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