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Sat, Jun

Taking Care of (City) Business

NEIGHBORHOOD POLITICS-The Information Technology Agency (ITA) manages IT (Information Technology) services for 41 Los Angeles City departments, 18 elected officials, and 48,000 City employees.

To a greater or lesser extent, its services also impact the City’s four million residents, 97,000 businesses, and the 45 million tourists who visit in a normal year. 

To serve the City well, the Department must provide cutting edge technology that functions efficiently and effectively. 

Due to a number of circumstances, instead of a lean mean thinking machine, Angelenos are victims of a Frankenstein tech patchwork stretching from the bowels of Los Angeles to Las Vegas. 

Challenges 

For the last three years, the City has been named the #1 Digital City by Government Technology rankings, yet the City’s equipment and servers are old and outdated. NOT investing in hardware is a recipe for disaster that could cripple the City’s digital infrastructure and services. 

Furthermore, having the right hardware and software is only half the story. The City must also update its IT policies and ensure that its procedures incorporate best practices and standards for legal, compliant, safe, and secure operations. 

Many of the problems facing the ITA are structural or systemic in nature. 

The City’s IT needs are evolving far faster than its staff and hardware. And the continued “siloization” of City departments into selfishly protected fiefdoms means the ITA lacks the authority to safeguard the City’s network by ensuring there is seamless integration of equipment across the entire system. 

This piecemeal approach also creates needless expenditures as the ITA is forced to fix unforeseen side effects. Yes, some departments must rely on proprietary outside software when it is not cost-effective to develop and maintain its own in-house, but the hardware with which it operates needs to conform to and work within the City’s network. 

To combat these challenges and effectively modernize the system for which it is responsible, the ITA not only needs to have complete authority over all aspects of the City’s IT but must also have a plan and the skills to implement the changes needed. 

Furthermore, the ITA must have substantive input on the budget requests made by every entity on the system to assess how those requests will affect the existing system. Projected cost outlays to integrate the requests must be added to that department’s budget and approved by the City prior to initiating any project. 

Until it has these controls, the ITA cannot effectively pursue the system-wide overhaul that is necessary to ensure modernization of the City’s tech hardware and software. 

Network upgrades / Maintenance 

To keep up with innovation and provide the features needed in today’s data-driven work environment, a cutting edge and well-maintained network infrastructure is imperative. 

The network now serving Los Angeles is so large and old that equipment constantly needs to be replaced but replacing it on an ad hoc basis is a recipe for disaster within today’s exponentially evolving tech world. One glitch can crash the system, one loophole can leave Los Angeles vulnerable to ransomware. 

An important aspect of safeguarding a modern network is changing from a local backup that is performed on each computer to a centralized automated backup system – technology that should have been implemented years ago in Los Angeles. 

Centralization is more economical because there is less hardware to acquire and it is more efficient in terms of maintenance costs and security. It also restricts access by unauthorized persons and hardens the network from security threats. 

Tech hardware is only as good as its maintenance. This includes not only basic care and servicing of sensitive, often expensive, equipment and ensuring it’s located and operated in an optimal environment, but also that the myriad upgrades required to function in a constantly evolving networked system are assessed and applied coherently. And safety procedures are rigorously followed with security updates being applied punctually and uniformly across the system. 

Forty-four percent of the ITA’s current inventory is at or beyond end-of-life and needs to be replaced. Departments often purchase their own programs and peripherals that don’t mesh with the existing system. 

Los Angeles needs an ITA that can take charge of overhauling the City’s IT needs from the ground up. The price tag may be prohibitive, but it will only increase every year it’s delayed, and those costs pale in comparison to what a system failure would mean to the City. 

Modernization means money 

It takes money to purchase new equipment. It takes money to maintain it. And it will take even more money to completely overhaul the City’s IT. But without this level of investment, LA’s IT system will continue on its long slow slide to being less than useless. 

Another but: there can be financial benefits from such an investment. Shifting to virtual servers and the cloud saves hardware costs and consolidates applications. With the rapidity of technological evolution, the risk of acquiring hardware today is that it will be obsolete tomorrow. 

Virtual tech can give the City flexibility as it moves into the future, but first proper cybersecurity protocols must be put in place. 

Savings can come from the Mayor and City Council funding a data analytics platform to analyze large quantities of information to pinpoint the efficiencies and inefficiencies in operations and expenditures. General Managers could then review these reports and related data matrices to identify areas of potential savings for their departments. 

But, to do that effectively, the City needs a modern system. How long will it take before the City’s IT system moves into the 21st century? Is the City’s ITA even able to meet these challenges? 

If not, then it will then be the ITA itself that needs to be upgraded.

 

(The Budget Advocates are an elected, all volunteer, independent advisory body charged with making constructive recommendations to the Mayor and the City Council regarding the Budget, and to City Departments on ways to improve their operations, and with obtaining input, updating and educating all Angelenos on the City’s fiscal management.) Edited for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.