Frugality pays off for Georgia county

Who's in charge

Vernon Jones

Chief executive officer


Richard Stogner

Executive assistant


Ann Kimbrough

Chief of staff


Mike Amato

Director, Information Systems Department


Shae Robinson

Deputy director, Information Systems, Project Development and Implementation Division

Top contractors

(in thousands, from January 2000
through September 2003)



Dell Inc.

$3,000


Attachmate Corp.

1,900


PeopleSoft Inc.

1,500


Disys Corp.

1,200


Oracle Corp.

1,150


Advanced Technology Development Center900 IBM Corp.

500


Cpak Corp.

450


Georgia Network Cabling Corp.

450


Denver Solutions Group Inc.

300


Total:

$11,350



Source: DeKalb County, Ga., Information Systems Department

Mike Amato (left) and Vernon Jones say effective use of information systems helped DeKalb earn a high bond credit rating.

Jenni Gritman

DeKalb County, Ga., could teach a thing or two to some state and local governments swimming in red ink.

East of Atlanta, the county is taking an aggressive approach to modernizing its IT while keeping its budget balanced.

'We're no longer Mayberry,' county chief executive officer Vernon Jones said.

The county of more than 700,000 recently received a AAA bond credit rating from Moody's Corp. of New York, meaning it was judged to have the smallest degree of investment risk.

'It means we pay our bills on time,' Jones said. The county's low debt levels and reserve funds also helped it earn the rating, which only 37 of 3,066 counties nationwide received.

Effective use of information systems helped DeKalb earn such a high rating. Jones said he studied information systems at North Carolina Central University in Durham, N.C., and later worked in telecommunications and data processing for WorldCom Inc. and BellSouth Corp.

'Because of my background, I realized that spending money on IT was a temporary expense, that it would come back sevenfold,' Jones said. 'We'd have better data and make better decisions.'

The cornerstone of the county's IT upgrade is I-Net, a new Gigabit Ethernet. The network is being rolled out in phases, said Mike Amato, director of the county's Information Systems Department. I-Net will be fully operational throughout the county by the end of 2005, he said.

The fastest the county's legacy WAN could go was 10 Mbps, Amato said. With the new network, the county will be able to transmit voice, video and data at gigabit speed, he said. 'We'll also be able to consolidate servers and enable new applications,' he said.

More upgrades coming

The new network will pave the way for other upgrades. For example, the county's financial system, written in Cobol, ran on a 22-year-old mainframe. Although it was 'very functional for its time,' it couldn't interact with other county systems, Amato said.

The new Web Financial Management Information System will handle all the county's financial applications and work with an Oracle11i database, said Shae Robinson, deputy director for project development and implementation.

The county now uses a paper system for purchasing and vendor negotiations, Robinson said.
'People don't understand about the cost of paper,' Amato said. 'We say we have all this technology, but more and more of what we do is still on paper.'

Amato and his staff are using IT to manage assets remotely. With Unicenter remote control tools from Computer Associates International Inc., Amato and his team can monitor environmental systems from miles away. 'We don't have to come into the office to find out that our air conditioning isn't working,' he said.

The county also uses Unicenter tools to remotely check the water pressure in fire hydrants. The software sends an alert by e-mail or pager if something goes wrong.

With 7,000 employees, 3,000 of whom are PC users, the county IT assets are growing, Amato said. Currently they are using Dell PCs and IBM RISC and Hewlett-Packard servers.

The department plans a move to biometric technology for some kinds of security, Amato said. 'We're working with the police and fire departments. We'll integrate more of our applications with geographic information systems and topology maps. We'll have digital images of buildings, so firefighters and police will know how to get to the roof and where the power room is before they get there,' he said.

Although DeKalb is cost-conscious, it won't scrimp on important matters, Amato said. 'We would not go to any meeting about a new product without a cost-benefit analysis. We do our best to get the best product at the best price,' he said. 'But if something will save a life, how do you put a dollar amount on it?'

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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