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Published: Wednesday, 8/10/2005

Ford touts city's advances in technology

The Ford administration this week touted technological advances it has made over the last 18 months to cope with Toledo's old information technology system - and unveiled a new water billing system that will replace the previous one, over 20 years old.

Mayor Jack Ford and Councilman Betty Shultz spoke during a news conference Monday about having spent $14 million to combat widespread deficiencies in the way the city organized and processed information, from finances to building inspection information to billing data.

Mr. Ford, while admitting the advances "weren't sexy," said they would take Toledo "from the 1990s to where we really need to be as a city" for the next decade.

The press event surrounded the unveiling of a new $5.5 million water billing system for the city's Department of Public Utilities, including software purchased from Pennsylvania-based SAP America Inc., related implementation costs, and a network of 64 new computers to help support the billing system.

Data will be sent instantly to out-of-state "host" servers in either Georgia or Pennsylvania, and will be able to be accessed immediately by the city's utility department.

"It will give us a reliable system that will be up virtually all the time and be integrated with other city systems" said Patsy Scott, head of the city's Department of Information and Communications Technology.

One benefit city officials have touted is the ability of the new billing system to allow for bills every month, rather than quarterly. "That was something council wanted us to consider," Ms. Scott said. But as for whether or not such a change will take place, "that hasn't been decided yet."

Robert Stevenson, director of the city's utility department, said he didn't anticipate any major shift in jobs.

He said the department would perhaps "gain a position or two," but that there would be no "mass change."

He added that the system should be fully implemented in six months.

Other city projects include $2.5 million to build a new network server infrastructure, completed within the last few weeks.

Previously, all the city's data was split among several different "silos" that had little security, used completely different types of equipment, and, in some cases, could not communicate.

"The fact that we weren't doing that before almost borders on disgrace," Mr. Ford said.

Also touted were the city's $700,000 project to build a wireless network across city property; $3.3 million to map the city's sewer, water, and storm water lines on a geographical tracking system; $1 million to update the city's 15-year-old payroll system by using an out-of-state contractor for five years, and $1 million to create a "one-stop shop" to monitor building inspections and various building-related permits.



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