Douglas County's technology plan is on schedule and within budget.
Entering the world of computers is often like going on a long trip without a map or a landmark.
Douglas County commissioners had been hearing so much about AS400 computers lately that they were surprised when new record management software for the register of deeds office wouldn't require one.
"I thought we wanted AS400s," commission Chair Tom Taul commented at a recent commission meeting.
Jim Lawson, coordinator of information services for the county, quickly explained that the records management software Register of Deeds Sue Neustifter needed would integrate with the courthouse's personal computer network.
"It will run fine on a PC server," Lawson said, also stressing that all AS400s are not created equal. Some have more power, others less.
That's when county resident Larry Kipp, who regularly attends commission meetings, stepped in with a simple, down-to-earth explanation.
He likened an AS400 to a Ford.
"It could be a car, a truck, a van," Kipp said. "It's not a specific model like an F150."
Cautious about bypassing a vendor's low bid for an AS400 as part of the register of deeds software package, Taul asked Lawson if Neustifter would need one down the road.
Lawson assured him no and added he didn't trust the price the company quoted for an AS400, saying it was much lower than any he had gotten while requesting proposals for the district court's court management system.
Commissioner Dean Nieder, who readily admits he's not as literate about computers as he might be, then threw in his two cents, asking County Administrator Craig Weinaug, "Do we truly know what we're doing here?"
Madl assured Nieder, Taul and outgoing Commissioner Mark Buhler that Lawson coordinates all of the county's computer needs and purchases.
But Nieder's question, one that has resonated at many recent commission meetings in which computers have been on the agenda, made Madl and Lawson realize they need to provide more background to the commissioners.
"From time to time we need to be reminded of the framework," Buhler told Lawson and Madl.
The bottom line
During an interview Wednesday, Madl said she thinks the board does a good job keeping on top of computer issues for only meeting twice a week and not being directly involved in day-to-day operations. She said the commissioners' recent comments that it seems as though a department is asking for new computers or software every week need to be taken into account.
Madl praised Lawson's performance as coordinator of information services, a job he's done for about a year, and said he pays great attention to making sure equipment is compatible.
Nieder said Friday it sometimes might feel like "maybe we aren't all going in the same direction," but he trusts Lawson's judgment.
"We've got to depend on Jim's expertise," Nieder said. "I just want to do what's in the best interest of the taxpayers. I don't want to spend more money than's necessary."
Madl said the county's six-phase technology plan, which went into effect earlier this year, is ahead of schedule and well within budget.
One major accomplishment Lawson noted this year was connecting all of the disparate personal computers in the courthouse together "so departments can work together," sharing files and having the ability to communicate with each other via e-mail.
Madl said e-mail is an easy way for department heads to communicate and also an efficient way to do such tasks as reserving rooms for meetings or checking calendars for training programs.
While county employees have the ability to e-mail each other, not everyone is hooked up to the Internet yet, Madl said. Changing technology is the driving force in waiting, she said.
"We've deliberately put off Internet access for everybody until new technology is available" that will be more cost-efficient, Madl said.
Nieder said he realizes technology is important for the courthouse as a means for the public to communicate with the county, but he said the commission always must pay attention to the bottom line.
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