Officials address City Council concerns over BIS

A City Council still not sold on Tacoma’s new computer department grilled Business Information Systems Director Dave Otto for over an hour during Tuesday’s study session.

Stressing the long term savings of a new department to operate the city’s new $50 million computer system, Otto presented information on a streamlined version of the department and justified the Business Information Systems (BIS) Department needing more employees and a bigger budget than its predecessor.

According to information presented by Otto, the new department would have more employees and cost just over $14.3 million next year, which is about $6.3 million more than is budgeted for information services.

The original plan called for a net increase of 40 full-time positions, Otto told the council, but he said he would reduce that to a net gain of 27 positions citywide. Other savings as part of the slimmed-down department include:

– Elimination of the city’s old legacy computer systems in the amount of $2 million.

– Shutting down the mainframe in May 2006 will save $1 million annually.

– Increased efficiency will result in time reductions of 10 to 50 percent for various tasks performed by city workers.

– More city services will be available online.

It will take about 18 to 36 months to work out all the bugs as city employees completely learn the new system, said Karen Larkin, project director.

“This is still a work in progress,” Otto noted.

The City Council seemed to approve of plans for a less-costly department, but indicated more work needed to be done.

“We’ll put your feet to the fire,” Councilman Rick Talbert told Otto, noting that a lot of time-and-money-saving measures were found in just two weeks – the last time Otto was before the City Council regarding the new department.
Talbert advocated regular updates on BIS.

“We need to have some specific goals,” said Councilmember Kevin Phelps.

Utilities Director Mark Crisson said Larkin would address the council on specifics at the Dec. 9 study session.

The potential savings met with approval from Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg, who said she’s been hearing complaints from the public on how much money is being spent on a department that is supposed to save money. She said she would like to see the council more involved in the money-saving process.

The city’s new computer system – which has gone online in two phases over the last several weeks – employs a new software package to replace the city’s aging financial management, human resources, work management and customer information systems with an enterprise system from SAP, a German software company.