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Guest perspective: Can you live without IT?
December 23, 2013, 05:00 AM By Steve Okamoto

In previous guest perspectives, I tried to showcase various employee groups in Foster City that provide services to our residents. In each of those groups — Parks and Recreation, Public Works, etc. — I tired to explain how the service they provide are important but also visible and quite evident. However, we have a group of individuals here in City Hall that offer services that are behind the scenes and quite unnoticeable. But let me tell you, if that group of employees were not around, this city would grind to a devastating halt.

Have you ever thought how our Information Technology (IT) group interacts with each of our lives? As I mention in my title, “Could you live without IT?”

Here are a few things that IT does to make our lives better and less complicated.

IT recently managed the project to renovate the city’s website. Thanks to the content management system (CMS) that we implemented, the city’s departments are able to keep the website up to date themselves. While you were on the website, did you sign up for any of the city’s email lists? IT manages the software that runs those as well.

When you get your water bill, did you realize that IT supports the systems that collect the water meter information wirelessly and feeds those readings into the billing system? In collaboration with our Public Works Water Division, IT is helping to create the opportunity for customers to review their hourly water consumption via the web and to set proactive alerts in the event of extraordinary water use or consistently higher use that could identify potential leaks. It also helped to implement the system that allows you to pay your water bill electronically.

When you want to register for a recreation class, IT maintains the software that allows the Parks and Recreation department to track all enrollees. They also helped to implement online class registration. They are currently assisting the Parks and Recreation Department in migrating to a new software vendor.

If you’ve ever needed to call a city department, IT administers the phone systems that allows that call to go through. IT recently completed a phone system replacement project that put much more powerful collaboration tools on the desks of city staff.

IT also orders and manages cell phones, smartphones, and tablets that are deployed to city staff, allowing city staff to stay connected 24/7.

Have you noticed the electronic bulletin board on the corner of Hillsdale and Shell? IT helps support the software and hardware to run the sign. They also help support the bulletin board that runs on FCTV Channel 27.

Speaking of Channel 27, IT also helps support the live and on-demand streaming of City Council meetings, as well as the site with the meeting agendas:

If you’ve ever needed to call the police, IT supports the software that allows dispatchers to take the call and track information. IT also supports the mobile data computer (MDC) terminals in the police cars that allow officers to be dispatched more efficiently and to write reports in the field.

After the San Mateo Fire Department and Foster City Fire Department entered a shared services agreement, some San Mateo staff moved into the Foster City offices. IT helped to integrate the networks so the San Mateo staff could continue to function using their San Mateo PCs on the San Mateo network.

If you’ve ever needed to see a copy of a building permit of plans in our Community Development Department, IT supports the system that maintains historical documents in electronic format. And if you needed a printed copy of the old permit, IT supports all of the citywide printers, too.

IT’s strategic vision in the coming months and years is to harness the power of those smartphones and tablets that you all own and use and provide a mobile experience for you to interact with the city. The city already has a Facebook and Twitter presence. However, IT is working on a plan to allow you to more effectively interact with the city using your mobile devices, whether it be reporting a street light outage, finding the nearest park or the schedule of the next concert in the park, or even finding a great place to eat and shop in this community.

In many regards, the Information Technology group is to the city team as the Public Works is to the community. When fresh water hits your tap, your toilets flush, the street lights come on, and you drive home on city streets, you really don’t give it a second thought. In the same way, when city departments turn on their computers in the morning, are able to electronically interact with you, our community, to process your building permits, dispatch police and fire services, monitor the lagoon levels, or control our park irrigation systems, IT is behind the scenes at work to ensure that the city provides the services you enjoy that help make this community one of the best places to live, work and play on the San Francisco Peninsula.

As you can see, although operating in the background, IT certainly is in the forefront of our lives.

Steve Okamoto is a member of the Foster City Council. He can be reached by email at



Tags: water, department, supports, mateo, system, community,

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