The needler in the haystack.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Information Technology: How will we know we are getting our money's worth?

Robinson-Briggs' proposed increases for Information Technology.
(Click on image for larger view, or to print.)

When Plainfield Mayor Sharon Robinson-Briggs hired an 'Information Technology Manager I - Information Processing' in February of this year, there were high hopes for straightening out the city's confusing IT situation, to which Robinson-Briggs added looking after the city's website, cable TV operations and public information responsibilities.

(The fact that Mayor Robinson-Briggs refuses to place IT under one of the departments as the city charter requires ought itself to be an item of concern to the Council, which has a certain leverage while the budget is being struck. Maybe this is the time to squeeze?)

As Bernice reported in April (see here), the new IT Manager outlined at a Washington Community School forum his short-term goals --

...objectives for the next three to six months include creation of one central network to connect all departments and divisions, overhaul of the city's web site, migration to a "" address instead of "," an auto attendant for the city's phone system, a citywide telephone notification system and more...
To date, nine months later, we have not been told how any of these have been met.

At this past summer's City Council 'retreat', the IT Manager gave a slide presentation with an ambitious overview of the work needing to be done to address the city's information technology needs. It was, however, extremely short on details and could not be said to constitute a 'plan' by any stretch of the imagination. That same presentation seems to be what was given Council members in preparation for tonight's budget presentation.

As I discussed yesterday (see here), the matter of INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY 'SILOS' has already come up in relation to the Fire Division and the Inspections Division. Last night, Purchasing Director David Spaulding, in answer to a Councilor's question, explained how having an electronic requisition/purchasing system would lead to both cost savings and better controls.

In addition, I noted that Spaulding's pressentation included an item (B.4.a.) for 'establish[ing] and maintain[ing] a system of asset management for electronic hardware, software and equipment''.

So here we are, nine months after the new IT Manager has taken up his duties, with numerous IT issues being taken up by individual Divisions for want of any IT leadership on the issues.

And with a request by the Robinson-Briggs administration -- while cuts are being made everywhere else -- to INCREASE FUNDING to Information Technology by more than 90% in FY2011 (an over 400% increase in the 'other' funding line), the Council needs to take a hard, close look at what the City is getting for its money. (The budget is online here; IT is on page 33.)

I have not made a secret of my thinking that there is no great need to increase the STAFFING for IT. There is an agency of which I am aware, whose 'footprint' is nearly identical to the City's (about 250 computer seats, over a dozen locations, and a website -- though no cable TV station), and which gets by with 'one and a half' IT persons. Gets by very well, thank you very much.

INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY is, in the first place, about the TECHNOLOGY of Information, and the cost-efficient management of same.

If there is no DETAILED TECHNOLOGY PLAN in place, how will the Council or the Robinson-Briggs administration know how to assess what direction things are going in and how successful they are?

So first, the Council should settle for nothing less than a COMPLETE, DETAILED and INCREMENTALLY PLOTTED technology plan which sets priorities from both a technology and a long-term budget perspective.

Here are some further questions to which the Council should want crisp, clear answers that would help it understand what kind of bang it is getting for its IT bucks --

  • Why don't we still have everyone on a single network?
  • Why don't we have a citywide shared services agreement for IT -- including the Library as well as the School District?
  • What is the City's contingency plan for IT in case of a disaster?
  • Is there an offiste data redundancy/backup plan in place?
  • What use and retention policies are in place for email -- for both employees and elected officials?
  • What use and retention policies are in place for documents considered public records?
  • Concerning cost controls --
    • How much money can the city save by going to 'cloud computing'?
    • How much money can the city save by using 'virtual machines'?
    • How much money can the city save by dumping expensive Microsoft licenses in favor of 'open source' options or Google Apps?
Both the Council and Plainfield's IT future will stand at a crossroads tonight.

Will it be progress by accountability (however painful) or accommodation to vague and hopeful nostrums?

-- Dan Damon [follow]

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Alan Goldstein said...

If there is no plan annunciated at tonight's budget hearing that deals with each of the division's needs as they've been expressed during these ongoing hearings, the City Council should pull the plug and maybe start looking for a new IT manager.

BTW- shouldn't hardware and software be capital expenses?

Anonymous said...

Dan you forget that the city needs to reinvent the wheel each time a new consultant/vendor walks through the door.

Anonymous said...

I think you raise some good points, Dan, but you make it very simplistic.

First, as you are aware, the entire efficiency of City Hall is lacking. The last thing you want to do is start buying software, licenses, etc. when you don't know how the operation works. And, we certainly do not want to promote silos, so we need to make sure that software is networked through City Hall so that there are not mulitple systems doing the same thing, or underutilizing systems. To get it right takes much time and effort in order to know what type of packages to purchase (if any) and what we already have. One person doing all of this in 9 months is laughable.

I am just curious how long you think it should take one person to:

1) Review all the software/hardware and platforms that are currently in existence

2) Understand who is using what systems

3) Understand each departments processes and needs

4) Research the best software or configure existing software

5) Implement the technology so that normal operations are not interrupted

6) Continue to support the daily functions of City Hall

One person - how long?

olddoc said...

The problem as I wrote is that to the best of my recollection there never was created the position reporting only to the Mayor. It was sort of left up in the air.

Anonymous said...

Typical Plainfield and the mayor's shenanigans

Anonymous said...

I would stick to slamming the Mayor Dan. You know that.

Anonymous said...

Hey Dan,

you seem like a bit of a disgruntled employee, did you want that job, you are asking a lot of how do you figure 1 and 1/2 person for the whole city are you CRAZY what about the network? you only consider computers, what about the amount of people in the city who dont know the difference between a hard drive and a CD drive and need help in creating a excel spread sheet, common DAN..... what about the e-mail system what about the web site what about the phone system. common DAN