Wednesday, July 10, 2013

City of Easton Hopes to Upgrade Technology Soon

By Christina Georgiou

New City of Easton IT Manager Frank Caruso outlines a
plan to upgrade the city's technology at the city council
committee meeting Tuesday evening.
The City of Easton is planning to upgrade its computer system and make other technology improvements in coming months in a drive for greater efficiency, it was revealed during a city council committee meeting Tuesday evening.

IT Manager Frank Caruso, who began working for the city about six weeks ago, outlined the beginnings of a plan to use technology to modernize a number of city systems, including the introduction of electronic card payment options to pay parking tickets and city utility and trash bills.

While the entire municipal system won't be completely integrated at first, integration is the goal, Caruso said, and eventually, members of the public will be able to pay bills and parking fines online.

The payment system at city hall will also be getting an upgrade in the near future too, he said.

"We may be looking at a kiosk system, where people can walk up and pay a parking ticket, (or) their utility bills," Caruso said, adding that the terminal would be similar to an ATM.

Currently, payments are recorded manually by city employees, and Easton doesn't accept credit and debit cards, he said.

Other tech upgrades are being planned too, including a new phone system and the "virtualization" of city computers, Caruso said.

A slide from Tuesday evening's presentation shows how
the city's phone system could be integrated to save
Easton money and pay for a new phone system.
Officials said that integrating the municipal phone system between 11 city properties would save Easton an estimated $10,000 per year, and that savings would more than pay for a new phone system over time.

The current city phone system was installed when the Alpha Building became the site of Easton city hall, about 17 years ago.

"It's on its last legs. We're hoping it's going to last," Caruso said.

The new IT manager also hopes to upgrade city computers in the near future, likely by installing a central server system and storing city data "in the cloud" where it could be accessed remotely both by desktop computers in city hall and by mobile devices employees could carry in the field when away from their desks, he said.

"You'll be able to take your iPads, your iPhones, on the road with you, and you'll be able to work like you're sitting at your desk," he said, noting this would be especially helpful for the city code inspectors and other employees who work in locations other than their desks a good portion of the time.

The system, along with the electronic payment upgrade, will also be especially useful for parking enforcement too, he said.

Parking enforcement officers would move to writing tickets electronically, where they would immediately be posted to the city's computer system, bypassing the need for a clerk to enter them manually, as is the case now.

Ticket recipients would be able to pay fines almost immediately online under the new system.

Centralizing the city's computer system would also allow for automatic software upgrades and save time and labor on maintenance, Caruso said.

An visual depiction of how a centralized computer system
for the city would work.
Instead of having to service each desktop individually, upgrades, security, and maintenance would be done at the central server, and changes would automatically be shared across the system, he said. City employees could log in from anywhere, and their profiles and preferences would follow their log in.

The IT manager also suggested the city might collaborate with Lafayette College on the project. Upgrades to the cables that carry data to the city must also take place before the plan could become a reality, he said, adding that Lafayette is in the middle of such an upgrade, and that would be another area the city might collaborate with the college.

"It's a long-term process," Caruso told city council members. "We're looking at what the feasibility is...Obviously, there's the matter of money."

City administrator Glenn Steckman said he wants to see the new parking payment system operational by November of this year, and the feasibility of other tech upgrades would likely be a topic of the 2014 budget discussions.

Mayor Sal Panto expressed support for the presented ideas, especially upgrades to the parking payment system, but stressed that any upgrades and changes must be "something we can pick up and take with us" to the city's new planned city hall too.

The mayor also suggested that having an electronic parking ticketing system would eliminate the need for one clerk in the police department. He added that the savings on that salary could likely be used to hire an additional public works employee.

Council members seemed cautiously favorable to the intial plans to update city systems.

Councilman Roger Ruggles said he wanted to see more information before a commitment to the plans.

"If we could get a rough implementation schedule--nothing we're going to hold your feet to the fire to--we'd at least have an intial picture (of the costs involved)," he told Caruso.

Caruso said a more detailed description of the plan will be forthcoming in weeks ahead.

"In six weeks, we've been in warp drive," he said.

Councilman Jeffrey Warren said he liked the direction of the plan. He added that the addition of wifi in city hall, which also includes separate access for guests at a minimal cost of $52 per month, is something he hopes will be further extended eventually to all locations in the city.

"With more young people moving here, it's something I think we should look at," Warren said.

1 comment:

  1. Christina, thank you for the article and reporting this information to the Public. Very accurate piece.

    The Mayor, Council, and Staff have been very supportive about our new efforts and we believe the enhancements will benefit the Public in a number of ways.

    Frank Caruso