03/07/05 — New computer system will connect county offices

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New computer system will connect county offices

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on March 7, 2005 1:49 PM

A new telephone and computer system for Wayne County government offices will improve efficiency, reduce recurring costs and allow county employees to respond quicker in emergencies, says the county manager.

Two years ago, County Manager Lee Smith directed his staff to develop a technology plan, as was recommended in the county's overrall strategic growth plan. He put together several committees of employees from various departments, and brought in an expert from the Institute of Government in Chapel Hill.

"He pulled all the groups together and we talked about different things," Smith said. "And we found out how each job was done, and how it fit in with other jobs."

Out of that planning process, he said, came the two-phase technology project of new computers and phone systems for the county. The project cost $180,000 over two years.

Sharon B. Syck, director of the county's information technology department, headed up the project.

All the county buildings, plus some city buildings, have been connected with fiber optic cabling, Ms. Syck said. Installing cable to some city buildings, such as City Hall, the City Hall annex and the city's maintenance complex, gives the county and the city governments the option to link information systems.

Getting the cable installed took about 18 months, Ms. Syck said. The county is now ready to connect the networks.

"First we'll connect the switches that connect the computers," Ms. Syck said. "Then we'll have a central point of contact."

Smith said the project's aim was to match technology with Wayne's government's needs.

"It's about how we do business," he said. "We looked at how each person did the job. Maybe they didn't need a new computer, maybe they could be more efficient if their desk was set up a different way."

Smith said the connection to the desk computer would also serve as the phone connection.

"There won't be any separate lines for computers and phones," Smith said. "That means if we want to move our phones, we unplug it and plug it in somewhere else."

By doing that, Smith said, the phone grid would then show, "Oh, now so and so is working here."

Before the changes, he explained, the telephone connection wouldn't show that the person had moved to a different location.

"To get that done involved getting the phone company out here, and that cost additional money," Smith said.

The new phone system will also allow the county to distribute information quickly during an emergency situation.

"I had a concern about communication during a disaster, like a tornado," Smith said. "Now we can get the message out through a central message that will go to everyone's phone."

The county will also have its own e-mail system, instead of paying the state for e-mail service.

"That's a big change, and will save dollars, plus give us greater control over the system," he said.

"We'll be able to get voice mail through the computer e-mail system, we'll have fax servers through the computer and we can route incoming faxes through e-mails," he said.

The phone system is on a phone lease purchase, and the county will own it within five years.

"We're spending the same, or less, to lease the new phones then we spent on the previous phone system per month," Smith said.

The county will save an estimated $75,000 on Internet charges annually, he said, by consolidating switches.

"And by the time we pay the last lease payment on the phone, we can begin building up a reserve for the next system," Smith said.