COUNTY’S COMPUTER SYSTEMS BOAST NEW SOPHISTICATION

COUNTY’S COMPUTER SYSTEMS BOAST NEW SOPHISTICATION

By David R. King
Doña Ana County Manager

Less than a year ago, Doña Ana County was coping with a catastrophic computer hardware failure that crippled access to information, both internally and externally. The crash inconvenienced scores of Realtors, title company employees, mortgage lenders and Internet-savvy residents who used the county’s on-line research databanks to make their lives easier. Even though the county had already begun to replace the hardware and rebuild a modern, secure system, it was not fully prepared for the conversion when the crash occurred.

Raymond Long, the county’s then-brand-new director of Information Technology, was tasked with the enormous responsibility of both getting the new system operational as quickly as possible and with reconfiguring all systems so that the chance of catastrophic failures would be minimized in the future. During his research, Long also found that the system security was so lax that it was regularly being targeted by outside hackers and spammers.

Long and his staff have since completed installation and rehabilitation of the system, making it exponentially more reliable and secure. The system now sports its own back-up generator, which is powered by natural gas. The system has redundant servers, so that if one goes down, the others can take over operations with no loss of data and only minimal disruption of access. Dual backup systems insure that all software and every item of data in the system is recorded for safe storage and retrieval. Crashes can now be recovered from quickly.

Further, Long discovered early on that the county had no documentation or procedural manuals for a variety of complicated but routine computer functions. Many programs had been written and implemented by long-time staffers whose departures left an intellectual void in the system. Long has implemented a manual-writing program that allows his staff to cross-train on critical applications, with written step-by-step instructions about how best to work through system problems and maintenance.

When last year’s crash occurred, one of the biggest obstacles to rebuilding the system was the fact that no reliable backup protocol existed. Long has since installed a backup system that automatically kicks in each morning at 1 a.m. and saves everything on the drives during a five-hour period. Although access to certain search information and images in the county system are restricted during the early-morning hours while the backup process is in operation, few complaints have been registered, and the overall integrity of the system is maintained in a way that, we believe, justifies the limited downtime to the affected areas of the county website.

Earlier this year, the county converted to an all-Microsoft Office system, which improves internal communication and standardizes program usage among all departments. This seemingly simple change also allows Long’s employees to become proficient more quickly, because the software is standardized. The county also is on the verge of creating a new network structure that will provide additional security and streamline internal processing.

Another large step toward improving the system was recently initiated, when Long and his staff modified every computer on the county network to further improve internal security and set the groundwork for a county Intranet through which internal communications can be routed and access to sensitive data can be made available to certain county employees. As part of the recent upgrade to the system, all employees are now required to log off the system each night and to shut down their computers. A report is generated nightly to monitor compliance with this requirement, and department heads are routinely notified of employees who are not logging off daily.

Long and his staff have put in unbelievable hours and have made significant strides during the last several months in an effort to bring Doña Ana County’s computer network up to levels of reliability, security, redundancy and standardization that meet or exceed every directive with which the department was charged, partly as a response to the 2001 crash. They are among the most dedicated and motivated employees in the county, and I wish to go on record as saying that I couldn’t be prouder of all they have accomplished in such a short time.