During recent FY13 budget negotiations the Clarke County Board of Supervisors rejected a Joint Administrative Services recommendation to purchase an enterprise resource planning (ERP) software system designed to address the County’s antiquated and obsolete hardware and software infrastructure. While the BOS rejection does not appear to have deterred JAS committee member and BOS Chairman Michael Hobert’s (Berryville) goal of implementing automation solutions that will lower County costs through efficiency improvements, the impact of the negative ERP vote does appear to have caused some second thoughts for other JAS members on how best to move the County forward.
On Monday the JAS committee – which includes Hobert, JAS Director Tom Judge, County Administrator David Ash, Treasurer Sharon Keeler, School Board member Chip Schutte (White Post) and Clarke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy – discussed designing a shared information technology vision between the County and school division that can be used to reduce future IT costs.
Judge said that cost savings are likely achievable in areas like server room construction, data security and firewall strategy, database redundancy, offsite backup strategy and shared communication lines if both the school division and the County adopt similar technology standards and approaches.
“These are the types of infrastructure requirements that are mutually beneficial to both the schools and the government,” Judge said. “If we have a shared plan both organizations will be cognizant of the opportunities as they arise. Long term, the plan could become a basis for future budgets and serve as a core that we then build on.”
Superintendent Murphy agreed.
“A shared plan will allow us to focus on common goals that both organizations can share – which mainly means infrastructure,” Murphy said.
Clarke County IT Director Gordon Russell and CCPS IT Director David Baggett, who would play an essential role in designing a shared government-schools IT plan, also attended Monday’s meeting. Both Baggett and Russell agreed that their respective organizations already share similar standards in areas like fiber optic cabling goals, high-speed shared storage devices (SAN) and server virtualization strategies.
“Both of our organizations are moving in the same directions and we talk frequently about these things,” Baggett said. “We’re both trying to eliminate the number of different technologies and platforms. I think that it would be good to have a plan on paper for budget purposes so that we know the funds will be there when the time comes to move ahead.”
“We need to look at technology issues that are County-wide and that are bigger than both of our organizations,” Baggett added.
“A lot of it is just trying to envision what the future may be,” agreed Dr. Murphy. “Having a plan on paper is critical in order to begin implementation. Unless we begin by writing our plan down we’re never going to know where the overlap actually is.”
Murphy cited data backup requirements, infrastructure and disaster recovery as potential areas where shared solutions may save taxpayer funds.
“It would be very helpful to have something concrete to show our two boards before we go into the next level of minutiae,” Hobert said.
“Everyone agrees that it makes sense to focus on things of mutual benefit,” Judge said. “I think that we need to come up with a plan and get it approved so that we can begin moving forward on extending the phone system, extending building automation, extending building security and replacement of data switches.”
However, Judge recommended not including an ERP software solution in the plan for the time being, but rather focusing on a core infrastructure design that both organizations can share.
Chairman Hobert then asked Judge, Russell and Baggett if they could form a committee to formalize a shared IT vision.
But after the recent rejection of the JAS’s year-long study recommending a County ERP implementation, JAS Director Tom Judge seemed reticent about going down a similar path only to once again face a “No” vote.
“I just don’t want this to be another plan that doesn’t have traction,” Judge replied.
“I think that people need to be brought along in order to say ‘Yes, we want to do this’,” Hobert replied in reference to his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors and others who resisted the previous ERP proposal.
“We spent a lot of time bringing people along on the ERP proposal but then we got to an audience of people who weren’t ready to go along and said ‘Are you sure that we really need to be doing this?’” Judge said. “There was a time when technology used to be optional but it’s not like that anymore. Even so, not everyone has signed on to that idea yet.”
School Board member Chip Schutte, a real estate professional, added that there is a growing expectation for technology everywhere including from prospective County residents.
“It’s hard to sell a house in the northwest part of the County where there is no internet connectivity,” Schutte remarked. “People immediately just wanted to look in places where broadband is available.”
Hobert said that Judge, Russell and Baggett are the key to the success of moving the County forward technologically and asked for their support while also acknowledging that each already has full time responsibilities.
“I know that you are all overwhelmed with all that you already have on your plates,” Hobert said. “But this is something that we need for you to do. At this point we don’t need an elaborate report, we just need enough to get our arms around the issues so that we can present it to our prospective boards and bring them along with us as we go.”