NYSAC News Fall 2018: Innovative Counties

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COUNTIES AND INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

Improving Efficiency with Shared IT Services By Paul Lutwak, Director of Informational Technology, Madison County

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ew York’s County-Wide Shared Services Initiative is designed to reduce property taxes and streamline local government by supporting cooperation among local governments. There are many ways we can and should be collaborating to save taxpayers' money. One method we have used in Madison County with great success has been our program of shared IT services with towns. If you look at the BOCES model in NYS schools, it is easy to see that IT collaboration can improve efficiency while allowing schools with less revenue to participate in services they might not otherwise afford. We have applied that same model to towns, using the county as the central organizer.

The Basics We started four years ago when the county installed its new voice over IP (VOIP) phone system. Often, sharing most easily starts at a point when some new equipment is needed. Our first shares included the VOIP switches and firewalls that were required to operate and service the new phones. Today we share services with six towns in the county. Each town has a custom-made set of services, with no two towns exactly the same. Our most popular services include the aforementioned firewalls and switches, antivirus, short- and long-term planning services, computer purchasing, and security consulting. Other offerings include wireless access points, copiers, patching, vulnerability scanning, websites, computer setup, software installation, network wiring, and backups. We are not done yet—we expect to be providing spam filtering, archiving, and hosting email and town servers later this year.

The Benefits The primary benefits to towns involve timeliness and cost effectiveness. I provide the planning service myself as a salaried employee, so the towns need not hire another expert consultant. The costs for all other services are an average of the rest of the IT staff ’s hourly wages. All RFP’s (Request For Proposals) and RFB’s (Request For Bids) that I conduct include all municipalities. If a town is considering new server-based software package, or their servers are approaching end of life, we can host the server at the county rather than having the town buy new servers or pay a third party to host it in the cloud. Because we already manage and service that town’s 24

NYSAC News | Fall 2018

firewall, switches, and computers, this kind of sharing is easy to do. We can also take care of the town’s backup and DR (Disaster Recovery) services rather than the town incurring these costs. Other benefits are less obvious but no less important. Everyone is worried about computer and network security, but not everyone can afford to diagnose and mitigate what needs to be done. Madison County employs a Security Engineer, a specialist that not all towns can afford to have. Using the enterprise tools that the county owns, our Security Engineer can routinely scan computers for the software patches and updates needed to keep data safe plus identify vulnerabilities that towns would not be able to detect. Madison County’s entire IT staff works together to define the very best solutions for every town. Towns may not have the funds, people, or time to do everything that needs doing. That’s where we can help.

The Challenges If there is anything standing in the way of shared IT services, it tends to be concerns that each town is unique, or that the county will not look out for their town’s best interests. We have found that the proof is in the delivery. As other towns begin to realize that our goals are to provide the best services possible, that we have their best interests front and center, that we are willing to tailor services to their specific needs, and that we truly care about making their lives easier and their technology secure and up-to-date, we expect to see more municipalities join up, thus improving cost effectiveness for everyone involved.