Cumberland Secures Data, Increases Efficiency With New Server And Tech Upgrades

Published 12:08 pm Thursday, December 4, 2014

CUMBERLAND — Cumberland County is getting an upgrade to better protect citizen data and increase staff efficiency. A new financial server will replace the current one which is over 20 years old.

During their November 18 meeting, the Cumberland Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to approve $87,161 for the new server and accompanying upgrades. The expense, which was $52,000 more than originally planned for by the board, also includes training on the County’s software and purchase of a software/hardware option that would automate components of the County’s utility billing and check processing.

The server supports the work of the County finance department and utility billing, as well as the Commissioner of Revenue’s and Treasurer’s office. It is used to process and store citizen taxes, assessments and utility billing data, among other things. Several years ago, before he began working for the County, the server crashed and data was lost, says Information Technology Manager Shawn Howard.

Email newsletter signup

With storage space about to run out, he told The Herald, something had to be done. If not replaced, Howard told the board, he expected the old server to last less than a year. The new servers should last 10 to 15 years, he said.

County Treasurer Leroy Pfeiffer and Commissioner of the Revenue Julie A. Phillips are both pleased the new server was approved. Pfeiffer spoke to the board prior to their decision. Although he is not one to speak at supervisors’ meetings often, he had also addressed the board several months ago, urging them to consider replacing the server. The automated backup upgrade was an important addition. “I’ve been here when the hard drive goes down,” Pfeiffer said, “I know what it’s like to have to go back and get a day’s or two day’s work… put all those entries back in.”

The old server is backed up using magnetic tapes, which are susceptible to heat and degrade over time, says Howard. The tapes had to be changed out manually. The new system will automatically back up data from one hard drive to another. Howard also plans to have another copy of the data saved on hard drives at the sheriff’s office. If something happens to the data stored at the County Administration Building, it will still be protected elsewhere, he says.

Vivian Giles, County administrator and attorney, recommended the new server and other upgrades to the board. “Reductions in staff have prompted efforts to identify ways of working more efficiently through automation,” she wrote in a memo to the board. “It is estimated that this automation will save approximately four days of work each month, thereby freeing staff to attend to other more pressing matters.”

The board had originally approved $35,000 for the server replacement. By itself, the new server will cost $59,881. Howard explained that the additional cost was due to the addition of the automated data backup and storage system and a newer server that was not available when the first estimate was made.

In addition to the server, the board approved approximately $26,000 for additional training and software/hardware automation related to the financial system.

Currently, County staff manually prints, sorts, folds and stuffs envelopes for utility bills and County bill payments. The check processing and utility billing software/hardware upgrade will save considerably on staff time, Giles stressed. The training will also allow staff to fully use components of the green-screen software that the County already has but isn’t fully utilizing, explained Finance Manager Tracie Wright.

“It’s County staff… that has absorbed all of the personnel reductions,” explained Giles during the discussion. “They’re short on time. So, I had recommended allowing them to learn these things in the training,” she explained.

Chairman Lloyd Banks, District One, expressed concern that only one company, CAS Severn, responded to the County’s request for proposals (RFP). Although Wright confirmed that the RFP was published in The Richmond Times-Dispatch, Banks said he’d prefer receiving other quotes to make sure the price was reasonable.

When he asked Howard if there were other companies that provided the service or if it was a monopoly, Howard said he didn’t personally know of any companies, besides CAS Severn, that did this.

After 25 minutes of discussion, the board unanimously approved the recommendation as submitted by Giles.

Supervisor Bill Osl later commended Giles’ recommendation: “I appreciate your desire to get the efficiency improvements in that will help…take some of the burden of our County staff, especially stuff that was being done like it was, you know, x-number of decades ago.”

The County has begun receiving parts for the project and it should be installed by the end of the year, at the latest, says Howard.