This little southern town has up-to-the-minute technology

This little southern town has up-to-the-minute technology

Savannah Information Services Department director Jerry Cornish and his staff have plans for Web application development.

By Claire E. House

GCN Staff

To book and movie fans worldwide, it is the real star of Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and the place Forrest Gump found Jenny again. To its nearly 150,000 residents, it is a quaint, history-rich place whose unique style inspires pride.

But even Savannah, Ga., cannot survive on charm and intrigue alone.

'For a little old Southern town, we have what I think is a very sophisticated network of computers,' said Jerry Cornish, Information Services Department director.

Founded in 1733, Savannah lies along its namesake river 15 miles from the Atlantic Ocean. It boasts lush, flowered gardens and distinctive Southern architecture. Still, the city has come a long way technologically since Eli Whitney introduced the cotton gin there in the late 1700s.

'We do everything'we're soup-to-nuts information technology services,' Cornish said of his department, which provides hardware and software installation, training, applications development and a help desk.

IS runs the City of Savannah Municipal Operations System (COSMOS), a metropolitan area network supporting 800 PCs used by half of the city's 2,000 employees.

Servers on the celestial network have names such as Earth, Venus, Mars, Milky Way and Jupiter.

COSMOS connects 60 city locations. About 90 percent of city PCs link over mostly 10-BaseT fiber-optic lines thanks to local ordinances allowing the city to use telecommunications company fiber in exchange for the rights to lay it.

The city, with a population of 137,560, gets 6 million visitors a year, and business is booming. From 1995 to 1998, the number of business site plan reviews nearly doubled from 85 to 165. So IS developed Site Plan Review in Lotus Notes to help.

Developers submit site plans to the city for approval from departments such as Traffic Engineering, Water and Sewer Planning, and Park and Tree. Before IS deployed the application a year and a half ago, the process was less than efficient.

'There were complaints that plans went into a black hole,' Cornish said.

On the trail

City development services administrator John Hutton spent hours on the phone tracking down plans and pushing them through the agencies. Site plan approvals averaged 48 days and typically held up projects because they lagged behind building construction permit approvals, Hutton said.

Now, Hutton enters each project file into Site Plan Review, indicating approval requirements and target dates. Parties receive automatic e-mail notification that plans are on their way. They can approve the plans or request further information online.

If plans are held up, Hutton merely checks the database and knows who to call.

'There's a tremendous amount of accountability because everyone knows if a project is stopping with you,' said Cam Mathis, IS application services administrator.

In 1997, before the app, Hutton received complaints about missed deadlines and poor coordination on 44 of 140 projects.

Last year, he received eight complaints for 165 projects. Average review time has dropped to 28 days, with double the sites and the same manpower, Hutton said.

Site Plan Review and other city Notes applications run under Lotus Domino 4.6 on Jupiter, a 200-MHz Compaq ProLiant 2500 server with 320M of RAM, five 4G internal drives and six external 9G drives.

The city's 16 code inspectors in the Inspections Department's Property Maintenance Division are reaping benefits from a Notes database that tracks code violations.

Inspectors travel the streets acting on tips or looking for violations of a city ordinance aimed at keeping the city beautiful. Code violations could include abandoned vehicles or dilapidated housing.

Armed with digital cameras, inspectors load violation photographs and enter violation information into the application. Violation notices print for staff mailing.

'Once a code enforcement problem is recorded, the clock starts ticking,' Mathis said.

Violators typically have 10 days to respond, division administrator Daniel Stallings said. If they don't, a clock icon appears next to the violation file, prompting an inspector to take further action such as issuing a courtesy notice or court summons.

Cornish said he would like to integrate the code violation system with the city's internally developed courtroom system so officials could pull up photos of a violation right on courtroom PCs.

IS also has written Notes applications that automate and improve workflow on leave requests and approvals, employment applications, new-hire approvals, new-hire information and requests for hardware and software purchases.

Looking forward, the department's major projects are year 2000 work and Web application development.

A citywide team has been working for a year evaluating systems for year 2000 readiness, using a Notes database to track progress. The city is extending its hurricane plan as a contingency plan for city operations, and IS staff will be on hand during the turnover weekend to monitor the situation, Cornish said.

As for Web development, IS plans to set up Site Plan Review so developers can track project status via the Web.

Also on the plate is making court calendars, job applications, development policies and community calendars Web-accessible, Mathis said. The city's Web page is at www.ci.savannah.ga.us.











The stats on Savannah IS
Budget: $2.5 million


Divisions:

Applications

Networks

Technical services

Staff: 25


Major projects:
Y2k
Web development




Crypt keeper

Those hordes of tourists will even have a hand in app development. IS plans to develop an application letting Bonaventure Cemetery director Jerry Fleming electronically track the number of visitors to the grounds as justification for extra maintenance funds, Mathis said.

Busloads of visitors and even bicycle tour groups regularly visit the cemetery, which was featured in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil'simply 'the book' to any Savannah resident in the know.

'I think it's a great city'it's a great size,' Cornish said. 'There's a lot of history, a lot of things going on both from a development standpoint and from a social, cultural standpoint. That's why I like living here.'



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