In his three months as Great Bend’s interim city administrator, George Kolb has witnessed numerous deficiencies in the city’s information technology. These could pose a risk to the city and the residents it serves, he said.
“This is a very complex issue,” he told the City Council Tuesday night. His comments highlighted an on-going evaluation of numerous proposals from IT firms to handle Great Bend’ growing tech infrastructure needs.
“Our Goal is to make best recommendation to council we can,” Kolb said. “I trust the security we have now, but there are some vulnerabilities.”
Tuesday’s agenda including the approval of a contract with a Sterling company which was one of the bidders for the work. But, that was tabled because an additional proposal was received and more evaluation was needed.
Which ever firm is hired, they will help the city migrate to a new server, analyze the network infrastructure, provide monthly services that would include daily backups, daily monitoring of machines and servers, daily firewall notifications and log monitoring, daily monitoring that antivirus is up to date and many other services the city currently does not have.
City system at risk
“A year ago, the city’s server went down,” Kolb said. “We were responsible for that. We had no one really looking at that, no one monitoring that, and one night, it just went down and it took a couple days to get it back up.”
Kolb wasn’t with the city at the time, but said he heard the horror stories.
There are also problems with how the city backs up its data, he said. “Really today, we are just backing up for the most part. We’re not monitoring for any problems and we don’t have anyone responsible for that.”
There are departments (Kolb mentioned the Police and Fire departments) that have a person who monitors IT systems. “They do a great job, but they have other responsibilities they are looking at as well.”
He also cited an issue with the backup system that occurred around Thanksgiving. “We caught it, but the servers we have are less than adequate to take care of the situation.”
He also mentioned a video conference call that “took an inordinate amount of staff time” and still didn’t go like it should. “There are other technology infrastructure issues that we need to address,” Kolb said. From the network to the wireless internet to not maximizing use of a fiber-optic system, “I could go on and on and on.”
So, what are the city’s choices?
“We could continue to do like we are now,” Kolb said. But, he doesn’t recommend this, noting the risks are too high.
“We have a responsibility, I believe, to the community, or customers and a whole myriad of people and businesses that we need to protect their information and also that our city government has a system they can be proud of,” he said.
The second option would be to create the city’s own technology department. But, “I don’t think that is prudent,” he said.
The city needs to spend more on technology, but this is over the top. There are 105 computers on the city’s system, but there are not that many users, and this doesn’t justify a new position that would cost around $150,000 in salary and benefits.
“The third option is somewhere between what we are doing now and a department,” Kolb said. This would involved hiring a firm that can provide managed service, including helping to develop a more efficient and effective system.
This would cost more than what the city currently spends on technology, but the resources are available to cover it, he said.
So, Kolb said the administration department sought proposals and has received four solid bidders. The council was poised to pick from Office Products Inc. of Great Bend, Network Management Group Inc. of Hutchinson and Gilmore Solutions of Sterling Tuesday night, but the fourth bid came in over the weekend.
Now, Kolb said they need time to sort through them and evaluate which would be the best fit. Kolb was set to recommend Gilmore Solutions’s bid of a $49,000 one-time set-up fee and monthly $8,000 fee before the last proposal arrived.
“When we did the budget, we were told it was very tight,” Councilman Mike Boys said. “This is a lot of money.”
Boys understood that some of the problems are immediate, and some of them won’t be a factor for another year or two.
He encouraged the new council and new mayor to work with the administrative officials to see if this can be phased in over two years. “I believe we need to step into this, not jump into it.”
This way, it can be planned and budgeted for.
Councilwoman Jolene Biggs suggested Great Bend look at what other cities are doing.
Kolb said they have started this process, but found few answers. “It is a mixed bag,” he said of how other cities handle IT issues.
Boys, and council members Brock McPherson and Dana Dawson all supported hiring a firm for managed service, but also working with a local vendor such as OPI.
“When something goes wrong, we need someone here to fix it,” McPherson said.,