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Merger of departments helped technology efforts

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

A year ago, the Clayton County government consolidated its Technical Support and Geographical Information System (GIS) divisions, Computer Center, and the Department of Archives and Records into the Information Technology (IT) Department -- a single entity to address the county's information-technology needs.

One year later, those services are still spread between three main centers -- Technical Support and the Computer Center on Government Circle and the Department of Archives and Records off Battle Creek Road.

While not under one roof, however, being under one banner has streamlined many of technology services, eliminated duplication, and has allowed each division to leverage the others' resources.

Brett Lavender, director of the IT Department, said the consolidation "cut through a lot of red tape," and allowed all of the county's information-related departments to respond to issues more quickly and effectively.

Before the merger, "everybody kind of did their own job" and "their job ended at a certain point," said Lavender. "It was not a team environment. What's good about the consolidation is that it's one phone number. I think you take more ownership when you are part of a team."

Lavender said that teamwork came in handy late last year, when the Parks and Recreation headquarters building had a major leak and had to be moved into a new office, with new computers and phones. With the different divisions working as one, the move was facilitated in one weekend, when before, the task would have taken much longer.

While the newest of all the county's departments, the IT Department has become one of the most vital. In addition to supplying all of the county's Internet communications and maintaining the its web site, virtually every county department works with the department.

Public safety departments depend on Technical Support for the programing and maintenance of their radios, sirens, and other communication equipment. Transportation and Development relies on statistical data and mapping from the GIS division. The Superior Court relies on the Department of Archives and Records for criminal case and docket records. All county departments depend on the department for phone, cable, and ethernet connections.

While the consolidation has allowed the different divisions of IT to do their jobs better, it has also facilitated making more of the county's information services available online.

A year ago, the IT Department operated at a bandwidth speed of 3 megabits per second and upgraded late last year to 10 megabits per second, in order to keep up with the growing demand for services from constituents and county employees.

Last Tuesday, the department requested additional funding from the board of commissioners to double its bandwidth again, to 20 megabits per second.

The additional bandwidth would cost the county an extra $2,115 per month, in addition to the $3,035 a month it already spends on Internet services. However, Lavender said the upgrade is necessary to keep the county moving forward.

"Right now, we are poised on providing more services, not only to the county, but to the constituents," he said. "We are trying to make all of the information that the public wants -- available. The easiest way to do that is through the Internet."

Tom Foster, GIS manager, said the IT Department is operating on "a shoe-string budget," but said it was getting to ready to provide the public with detailed maps, with public safety information, property information and street information, all online.

"People have made maps forever," said Foster. "People haven't always been able to use maps to analyze data. Here, we can take data and maps and bring them together."

Kena Reyes, division manager of the Department of Archives and Records, said that while consolidating the departments has been challenging, doing so has taken vital documentation from seven different locations and put it in a central area. She said the county's increased reliance on the Internet has created an opportunity to image more of the county's historical documentation and put it online.