IT tasked with keeping your city on the cutting edge
Most every business has an IT department. You know, the people you call when you get a Blue Screen of Death or the printer breaks down. They’re the offensive linemen of business – coworkers whose vigilance maintaining your network too often goes unnoticed because you typically only interact with them when something has gone wrong.
The same can be said of the city’s Information Technology Department, led by Director Chris Vasquez, who took over the department in December 2015. He and his staff embrace their role as the backbone of day-to-day city operations.
“Our job is to make city staff more efficient through the use of technology,” Vasquez said. “In other words, we support the community by supporting the many services being provided.”
In a world where technology changes fast, the main challenge for IT departments is often simply keeping up. Vasquez said his primary goal upon joining The Colony has been to upgrade much of the city’s IT hardware and network infrastructure.
“Right now, a lot of the technology we have in place is very old – both hardware and software,” he said. “We’re going through a process now of exchanging a lot of the old hardware with new stuff.”
The upgrades will improve productivity across the board but starts with a few key areas that are most critical. For example, Vasquez said they’re working to improve the network pathways between the various city facilities and the hub at City Hall.
“Some of the pathways right now use very old equipment, resulting in slow or non-existent network connections, depending on what staff is trying to do,” he said. “With the improvements, you could equate it to construction of a six-lane, high-speed data highway over a dial-up two-lane road. This will be something we’re working on for quite some time.”
A large-scale project of that nature has a lot of little components, Vasquez said. In order to prepare for the new equipment, the department must first assess and inventory existing resources.
“For example, we have to start by reorganizing the main data center. There’s a lot of equipment we’re not using that’s taking up space,” Vasquez said. “We need to clean all that up and make space for the new equipment, and get all the cabling organized so we’ll have an easier time troubleshooting both now and when the new equipment is installed.”
Keeping up with technology is a common challenge in every industry and every city, Vasquez said, adding that he went through a similar overhaul recently in his previous role as IT director for the City of Huntsville, Texas.
“Once we get it all changed it out and stabilized, then we can focus our resources more on how we can make things better for staff and thereby our residents, instead of spending time fixing things,” he said.
Another IT trend has been moving operations to the cloud. “That tends to make things easier for IT staff and staff in general,” Vasquez said.
IT recently completed a six-month project to move the city’s email system to the cloud, which frees up internal resources from having to maintain and secure a bulky email server. Vasquez said the transition went fairly smooth.
“The only issues we had were external components, such as scanning, voicemail, and faxing to email,” Vasquez said. “But we worked diligently to get those functions restored as soon as possible.”
During installation of the new backup power generator at City Hall, maintaining network continuity and data security during the transition were huge priorities for all parties involved – especially IT. The citywide internet connection goes through City Hall, so if power goes out there, everyone loses the connection.
“There was a lot of concern that if we shut off power to the building, the older equipment wouldn’t reboot,” Vasquez said. “But we came up with a game plan and staggered the shutdown during the transition. We kept things running for several hours on a large backup battery. Luckily, after power was restored, everything came back up. It went pretty smooth, and it’s saved us a couple times already.”
“Our priority for that project would be to ensure the new website is easy for staff to update so there won’t be any unnecessary delays in distributing important news and information to residents,” Vasquez said. “Again, it all goes back to improving efficiency. The more we can help staff get things done faster, the more it helps the city as a whole.
“Whatever the project or problem may be, our goal is to be proactive versus reactive. That’s the key to success in the world of information technology.”