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BOC: Is Hiring I.T. Right the Right Thing to Do?

County’s Overwhelmed IT Department May Be Getting Some Much-Needed Help

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HARRISON – One agenda item at the February meeting of the Clare County Board of Commissioners sought to have the board reconsider a request for an I.T. Right service contract with the Register of Deeds in the amount of $14,960 to be paid from the 263 Automation Fund. This pursuit followed previous problems encountered when Clerk/Register Lori Martin replaced a printer, ordered directly through a vendor rather than through the county’s I.T. department. Issues ensued, including an inability to print remotely: no small thing in a busy department.

The February request was set aside and the board slated a special workshop meeting to gather specific information about just what the I.T. problems were. That Zoom meeting was held in late February, attended by commissioners Jeff Haskell, Sandra Bristol and Bronwyn Asplund, as well as administrator Tracey Byard and Martin.

Haskell introduced the gathering as an informational meeting to discuss Clare County I.T., then asked for comments from Jesse Bellinger, the county’s I.T. director, who offered a recap of the previously discussed concerns. He started out by describing the many work request tickets not getting addressed in as timely a manner as his department would like.

“Essentially, that boils down to us having a lot more work than is worked,” he said. “Really, it boils down to us needing more staff.”

He then referred to the presentation offered by Tom Conway, I.T Right senior account manager, at the previous BOC meeting, adding that he really liked what Conway had to say and that the two had met after that meeting.

“And he really seems to have a lot to offer,” Bellinger said. “I really think that I.T. Right coming in and working for the I.T. department sounds like a pretty great idea.

“His emphasis was on I.T. Right coming and working with the existing I.T. department, and essentially back-padding us to give us more hands on deck to get the job done that we need to do. And that’s what we need.”

When asked what had been presented for cost, Lori Martin said $12,000 which had been presented previously as fundable through her department’s funds. She added that, since her previous proposal to hire I.T. Right had been based on fulfilling a specific need in her department, she would need to check with the attorney to make certain that it was allowable to use those Automation Fund monies for the broader benefit of all county departments. Martin said she could have that information for commissioners at their next meeting.

When asked by Bristol about the proposed fee for the clerk/register’s office in relation to service for all departments, Bellinger explained that the proposal for the “six-ish” Register of Deeds computers was based on I.T. Right “doing everything.”

“He was saying it would be significantly cheaper per device, per user because they wouldn’t be doing everything; because we would still be doing the high-level planning, we’d still have our own web filtering, our own security software,” Bellinger said. “It would be more than the $14,000 organization-wide, because you have around 200-250 computers, but it would be cheaper per computer, because they would be providing kind of the first tear, help-desk boots on the ground support, while letting us do our I.T. department support.”

When Asplund asked it this support would apply to the sheriff’s department, Bellinger said yes. She also asked if the sheriff department had funds somewhere that they could pay for the support service being contemplated.

Bellinger said he did not yet know what department portions would be because he had not yet been given a total cost. He said a report could be pulled showing how many computers and users the county has and the size of the departments.

“See what it would look like if we kind of bill everybody out fairly,” Bellinger said.

Tracy Byard, county administrator, said she also is waiting for that figure before she reaches out to other departments for participation support.

“I think we’re really onto something here,” Asplund said. “And I think it will help every department if we can get help.”

Bellinger said back-padding for the I.T. department and another set of hands to handle getting a lot of the ticket load done, would free up both I.T. personnel to work on lots of projects.

“I’ve got a lot of projects that need to be done for replacing servers,” he said. “We’ve recently just finished up a net motion migration – we’re trying to roll out COVID laptops, and I need to get two-factor authentication implemented. We just did a bunch of cabling projects; we need to get our 2008 servers replaced; we’re still working on getting our Windows 7 computers replaced. Some of those projects are for me, and some of those projects are for Josh [Chapman, systems administrator]. And the more time we have to work on projects, the faster those things can get done.”

Asplund then asked whether there is grant funding available for that work, and Bellinger said the county doesn’t seem to get a lot of I.T.-specific grants.

Haskell suggested that, since much of the laptop use can be attributed to the COVID restrictions, perhaps there is COVID relief funding “out there” which could be secured for I.T. support.

Byard later on said the county’s $5,000 COVID relief funding for Zoom was still available.

Bellinger pointed out the specific-purpose nature of grants, and that by rolling out I.T. across the board, it would be getting used for multiple purposes, thus likely would not fit within given grant parameters.

Haskell clarified that I.T. Right would be taking care of “a boatload of small issues” which would free up Bellinger for projects. He then asked Bellinger to detail what the problem has been.

“We have so many break-fix items, and what is often called getting ‘Hey, you’-ed,” he said, explaining that as being in a department to fix something and being asked to fix something additional while there.

“If you look at our ticket queue, they’re coming in just as fast as we’re closing them out,” he said. “We can close out 10-20 tickets in a day and look at our ticket queue at the end of the day, and the total number of tickets hasn’t changed.”

He said another issue is having only two people in his department, and the inability to keep up with tickets if one person is out sick or has a doctor’s appointment. He noted that he had contracted COVID in November and Josh the previous month, which equaled a whole month’s work “just gone.”

It was explained that I.T. Right could handle a fair amount of ticket work remotely, but likely there would be enough tickets getting stacked up to justify a technician coming into the county building regularly to work onsite.

“We can go to their ticket processing [system/program], but I think it would be better for our users if we stay with our ticket processing,” Bellinger said. “We have a lot of people, like the prosecutor’s department and the courts that really rely on us to be able to hop up from our desk right now and go take care of a priority issue when something’s not working and they’re in court and they need something right now – vs. putting a ticket in and waiting for somebody to drive here.

“We want to have the best of both worlds, in that we want the extra help from I.T. Right,” he said. “But we also want the immediate response of having a person in the building from the I.T. department right now when you need it.”

Bellinger suggested the board might want to consider the cost of hiring a third I.T. employee, as well as the cost of a Kelly Services employee if the I.T. Right cost turned out to be more than anticipated.

“I think we need to consider the experience that comes with I.T. Right,” Martin said. “Rather than having to train them on every department’s software – and consider that we just did all those early retirements with the understanding we’re not going to hire more people for two years. And adding more people to the county payroll is more benefits and retirement.”

Haskell summed up the day’s inquiry, saying what needs to be brought to the next BOC meeting included: 1. The projected costs and how the funding could be realized, and 2. The fact that there are now people “on board” who will make the new business relationship work.

“In the beginning I don’t think everybody was onboard wanting to do this,” Haskell said. “But now I feel that everybody’s onboard so it should not feel like we’re wasting money.”

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