Strategic Management of Desktop Computer Equipment in Saint Paul, Minnesota
Camp, Linda J., Government Finance Review
A team approach and thorough implementation plan for the citywide replacement of desktop computers paid off in immediate dollar savings, more efficient staffing patterns, and computers configured toward the future.
In 1995, trying to utilize the latest computer software package was an uphill battle for many in Saint Paul city government. Chances were that the personal computer (PC) on one's desk was at least five years old and lacked the capacity to run the new program. Even most of the newer and upgraded machines still did not have the right "horsepower." If it was late in the year and the department had not yet ex-hausted its budget, it might have been possible to squeeze a new machine out of the remaining funds; however, there was no guarantee that technical staff would be able to install it within a reasonable amount of time. They were just too busy maintaining old equipment or trying to get the city's 29 microcomputer networks to function effectively with all of the various platforms in place.
Barely two years later, things look very different. Today there are more than 400 new microcomputers, geared toward the future and not dependent on "leftover" dollars. Nearly all were installed during the last quarter of 1996 with minimal disruption to normal activity. As a result, both software and hardware are standardized throughout the city for the first time ever. These changes have taken place without massive infusions of new money or sacrificing other projects, and savings already are beginning to emerge. This turnaround resulted from strategically thinking and planning for information systems.
A New Game Plan
Like many other public- and private-sector organizations, Saint Paul, Minnesota, has grown increasingly dependent upon information technology to accomplish its business. Technology now permeates every facet of daily operations, from the local police office to paying for office supplies. The city has struggled to keep pace with developments in the marketplace with the budget constantly under siege; two years ago, these frustrations led the city to stop and consider a new approach. What emerged was a formal plan for replacing desktop equipment. The long-term solution lay in thinking more strategically about both information systems and the dollars required to pay for them.
The plan that Saint Paul has adopted includes five critical elements.
1. Substantial One-time Upgrade of Equipment. The city decided to replace as many older machines as possible as the first step of the process. This elimination of outdated equipment helped establish a common platform for Intel desktop equipment and immediately reduced the amount of staff time and money being channeled into maintaining old equipment. All equipment below a 486 configuration was replaced in 1996: 397 machines were acquired under a lease agreement (described below) and 67 were purchased outright. (The total equipment base in the city is approximately 1,500 machines.)
2. Formal Replacement Schedule. The city made a commitment to a more systematic replacement process. Approximately one-third of the PC inventory will be replaced each year, with the information services (IS) department coordinating the process. This centralized strategy will allow machines of sufficient capacity to be acquired according to need rather than as a result of fluctuations of an individual department's budget.
3. Vendor-owned Equipment. Based on careful analysis of costs and industry trends, the city decided there were few benefits to be gained from owning desktop equipment with its short life cycle. Although the city continues to purchase some equipment outright, most of the machines acquired under the replacement plan have been leased through a contract with a vendor that specializes in financing computer equipment. It is anticipated that this approach will continue to be used for future replacements.
4. Quantity Purchasing Using Standard Specifications. …