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Mr. Fix-IT Makes A Plea

by Thomas MacMillan | Mar 26, 2014 5:12 pm

(11) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: City Hall, City Budget

Thomas MacMillan Photo Controller Daryl Jones said the city’s computer technology is so “antiquated” that city workers sometimes can’t even open messages received from more newfangled email systems.

Jones (pictured) offered that anecdote at a recent hearing of the Board of Alders Finance Committee, where he testified about the Finance Department’s allocation in the mayor’s proposed $511 million budget. He explained why the city needs $1.6 million in capital upgrades to information technology (IT).

Mayor Toni Harp’s $511 million budget would raise city property taxes by 3.8 percent. Alders are expected to try to whittle away at that tax hike before taking a final vote on the budget at the end of May.

Jones made a pitch for spending more on IT despite tough budget times.

“The IT department hasn’t really been funded well,” he told the committee. “As a result, we have to upgrade.”

He said it’s “become very difficult to do business with outside vendors” because of how old the computers are. Sometimes, when someone sends an email to the city, because of our antiquated email, we can’t open the file.”

“So you’ll see our capital budget is really focused on improving our technology,” Jones said.

The capital budget includes $300,000 for software and hardware upgrades, $400,000 for network and email improvements, and $900,000 for IT “initiatives” including replacing computers and servers and improving the wireless network.

Jones said he’s learning from the Board of Education, which has more advanced technology than the rest of the city.

“We’re taking an approach we’re calling ‘hybrid outsourcing,’” he said. That means putting some data in the cloud. For example, the payroll system: “That accomplishes a lot right there. Now if something happens, in terms of disaster recovery, people will still get paid. It allows us to free up time for our staff to work on other projects.”

Alder Mike Stratton, who represents Newhallville and Prospect Hill, asked why the city doesn’t outsource all its information technology.

As it stands, the city’s computer system is so antediluvian that it would need an upgrade before any outside contractor would even be able to work with it, he said.

“Given that our shop is—I won’t say in the stone age—our IT structurally needs to be built back up,” Jones said. “It would be very difficult for an outside company to even take a look at us.”

“You’re saying it’s better to renovate the house first and then call the contractors in,” Stratton said.

No, Jones said. The IT department needs to be entirely redone, he said. A recent crash froze certain operations for days.

“Rather than reinvent the IT system,” Stratton asked, why not put the job out to bid?

Jones said that before he started working for the city this year, he contacted an old colleague from his days working on New York transit. He got the advice of the head of the Metropolitan Transit Authority’s IT department chief of staff. “They laid out the game plan.”

Jones said he also looked at an IT assessment that a consultant did for the city several years ago. “I showed that to MTA. They said, ‘Absolutely.’”

Both the consultants and the MTA recommended the plan that Jones is now following, he said. “We have a plan. We’re implementing the plan.”

“I’m just asking you to go to the cities with the best IT departments and have them come in and tell us, ‘This is what you need,’” Stratton said.

Even if the city were to outsource IT, it would still need to pay the $1.6 million to upgrade to be ready for outsourcing, Jones said. Plus, outsourcing can be less efficient—you can end up paying more in the end if you give over control completely.

“It doesn’t cost anything to get a bid,” Stratton said.

Hill Alder Jorge Perez, president of the Board of Alders, suggested a smaller group be formed to look at IT more closely.

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posted by: Bill Saunders on March 26, 2014  5:52pm

Please include the Police Department in this plan….

Has anyone ever tried to get a Police Report without the secret case#, which is sometimes not given….they can’t cross reference much.

Or maybe you’ve just waited in the line of disgruntled citizens waiting for their turn to be frustrated. .....

posted by: Rob Smuts on March 26, 2014  7:34pm

Made some progress (SeeClickFix, online permitting, etc), but one of my biggest regrets as CAO was in IT.  I have no skin in the game anymore, but think that Mr. Jones’ approach makes a lot of sense.  I hope that he continues to involve the operational departments (CAO departments), but I am convinced that with a good direction, the City can improve the service level to the public and ultimately save money with smart IT investments.  It is not easy to get from Point A to Point B in a public sector environment, but from what I hear internally, Mr. Jones is charging ahead in the right direction.

- Rob Smuts, CAO 2007-2013

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on March 26, 2014  8:19pm

“IT” is my specialty. I used to contract with the city of New Haven in the “IT” department for the BOE, and I agree 1000% that the equipment (desktops/servers/hardware/software etc.)is antiquated.

One of the problems with the “IT” department is that they do not have a CIO (Chief Information Officer) who can/will make sure the Department stays on top of things like this. This is a position that you can just walk into. This person usually has their Ph.D degree. You cannot have someone who has no IT knowledge run the IT department because they won’t know what’s right or wrong and will just listen to the people in the department. You need someone in the know.

Contracting with IT companies are not good for another reason. You end up paying out huge amounts of money to the contracting company, then they hire contractors and pay them cheap. That only takes care of the workers. On top of that, you (BOE/City of New Haven) still has to purchase new equipment/software licenses etc.etc. No one wins except for the contracting company.

The city doesn’t buy anything “new” either;It’s all refurbished desktops.

With all that said, I think it’s about time someone has spoken out about this. There are some good people who work for BOE/City of New Haven who have degrees in CS and CIS who I’ve spoken to that have been complaining for YEARS, so I hope this gets taken care of ASAP. I even spoke to Garth Harries about this, but “IT” isn’t his specialty.

If there is a meeting about this, please make sure you have qualified people who are in the know about Information Technology discuss this. It provides “checks and balances” therefore, someone who doesn’t know about “IT” isn’t baffled with all the jargon by someone who is. They’d have someone to break in down in lamen terms.

If these meetings are free to the public, I’d love to attend. Everyone should be able to do their job more efficiently with little to no stress in 2014 when it comes to technology :)

posted by: Public-Inefficiencies on March 26, 2014  10:44pm

I’m in IT as well and based on just what I read in this article, I have to agree with Daryl Jones.  A hybrid outsourcing approach is usually a win-win. 

Handing over full control to an outside company will cost more, long term.  We should keep the simple stuff inside and outsource the more difficult, cost effective items like payroll. 

Plus, if we truly don’t have a CIO, it is probably a position that should be created at some point.  This person would run IT and be the steward for deciding insourcing vs outsourcing.  Plus they can work with the various city departments to automate and create efficiencies through technology. 

ILoveMYcity203, Not sure we need someone with a PhD to run the department but someone with drive and “in the know” makes sense.

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on March 26, 2014  11:33pm

@Public-Inefficiencies

I agree with you. I also had some typos in there too, so excuse me for my laziness. You’re also right about not needing someone with a Ph.D

I just mentioned that just to stress that the position should be held by someone just because they know someone, but with someone with “in the know” and the drive.

I’m with you 100% on your comment though.

Crazy thing is they are still on GX260s, GX280s.. the printers are outdated, the wiring is out of control. The switches are outdated. It’s bad, but the people/person’s running the show don’t know enough to challenge the people who are giving them advice, so the Managers just go back to the meetings with the higher ups and say, “everything is okay. etc. etc.”
Now tell that to someone like you and I, then it’d be a different story. We’d catch their bluff quick!

Lastly, Windows XP is no longer supported as of April 8th. The security holes in that OS are going to be extraordinary. Walk in the schools and the city offices, and I bet the “IT” departments answer will be, “we don’t have enough money to upgrade.” Well the truth is, when security is compromised and HIPPA laws are being violated, something needs to be done.

NHI/Paul, check it out. You will be surprised at what you discover! You can’t make this stuff up :)

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on March 27, 2014  1:32am

I’m an accounting professional and provide accounting consulting services to technology start-ups. I see what companies spend on accounting and on software and hardware. $1.6 million buys a tremendous amount of software and hardware in today’s environment. I haven’t seen the details behind what this money would be used to purchase but the amount seems excessive. Most accounting functions (payroll, accounts payable, etc.) are now available in the cloud.

They want to spend $900,000 for IT “initiatives” including replacing computers and servers and improving the wireless network. This doesn’t sound right. First, PC’s are cheap ~$1,000 as is networking and wi-fi hardware. The companies I work with have btw 25 and 100 employees and they’re able to set-up a secure wireless environment in a NYC office building for less than $2,000. Most companies today don’t buy servers - they rent/lease it for a fraction of the cost of buying and they do so through Amazon Web Services or Google Web Services.

The Controller is quoted as saying “Sometimes, when someone sends an email to the city, because of our antiquated email, we can’t open the file.”

This can’t really be happening, or if it is, there is no excuse for it. As long as an employee has a PC with an internet connection they can sign up for a free gmail account and free google drive and open ANY attachment in google drive and save/print it out in PDF format. Google Apps offers email to businesses and it’s btw $50 - $100 a month for 50 email users.

Also, the fact that he is relying on an opinion from the MTA’s IT department worries me. The board of alders and the city really need to get an independent opinion before the finance department takes an IT path that may end up locking the city into a long-term expensive and inefficient plan.

posted by: Threefifths on March 27, 2014  9:12am

Outsourcing give me a break.You know were they are going to go.Just look in any IT department these days.It’s like being in Mumbai.

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on March 27, 2014  4:20pm

@NewHavenTaxTooHigh,

just because a company spends less than $2,000.00 doesn’t mean they got a good deal. If you want me to get to the meat of it, I can. Cloud is good, but isn’t always the answer.

Also, with students and city employees information, you do not want to rely on a 3rd party (Google, Amazon etc.) for their services.
Information that you upload to their cloud services or any service for that matter has access to your files/folders.

Security is like a onion. The more layers of protection the better, and simply outsourcing to third party vendors like that, takes away that one layer of security.

All they have to do is hire qualified candidates to manage and set up all those services such as cloud.

Oh if you think their wireless is so secure, do some information on “backtrack” for Linux.

As a System Administrator, you might not need servers, but you have to have a Virtual Machine set up somewhere, and that will require licenses, so you’ll pay either way. As well as you need vendor accounts and MS licenses and so on. 
Of course it’s cheaper than the physical server and VMware is good, but there are pros and cons. It all comes down to the needs of the organization and what they are trying to accomplish, which would be the city in this case.

1.5million or whatever the cost is might be excessive, but it can be done. The problem with the City and BOE, is upgrades should have been and should gradually. They waited too long, now they need a lump sum!

Last but not least,

you wrote:
“This can’t really be happening, or if it is, there is no excuse for it.”

This does happen. If a user with an older version of Microsoft Office doesn’t have the file “format converter” they will not be able to open newer version. As well as newer versions have features that they include in files that won’t be seen with older versions even if it’s open. Just saying :)

posted by: Wooster Squared on March 27, 2014  7:18pm

Normally I agree with Alder Stratton, but not on this one. Outsourcing your IT is a terrible idea. The initial contract will always look great. Once another company has control of your IT, however, they got you by the short hairs and you’re going to see that price creep up and the service go down.

Ask anyone who works for a company with an outsourced IT department how it’s working for them. And keep in mind, if a small city like New Haven outsources their IT to one of the main companies out there like Accenture, you’d better believe you’re not getting their A squad. Anyone good on their staff is going to be handling an account like GE or Proctor & Gamble.

posted by: 14yearsinNHandgone on March 27, 2014  7:40pm

Why not send all work over a certain amount out to bid?

Why depend on the word of one guy at the MTA and someone else said it was a god idea, doesn’t make it so.  This is MILLIONS of dollars.  It should go out to bid automatically.

Why is New Haven so reluctant to issue RFP’s for any serious amount of work to be done?

posted by: RicePaddy on March 30, 2014  8:59pm

I commend Daryl Jones for his outlook and proposing a “hybrid” environment, but don’t overlook the resources that are within the IT department currently. Most of them are worth their weight in gold, but due to management issues why should the IT individuals suffer? Most of the IT professionals I’ve encountered are helpful, beyond knowledgeable and know us as employees and speak about what “should” happen.
We see the problems they face and know they are for change and improvement as well.
IT has been shunned for years and the result of having to manage funds for other departments out of its own budget has weighed upon what IT was able to produce and distributed to the city.
Some individuals in the accounting world should think about a new line of work.

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