GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY/Automating infrastructure maintenance
Information technology managers face a number of obstacles in keeping government hardware and software operating optimally. The proliferation of heterogeneous technologies requires IT managers to keep a constant eye on computer infrastructure to ensure all components run smoothly. Many managers are turning to automation software to monitor and troubleshoot networks, which reduces computer downtime for employees and residents while improving government efficiency.
IT infrastructure complexity is traditionally associated with high management costs because IT employees can spend significant amounts of time deploying, tuning, fixing and securing multiple systems. Automation software can reduce administrative costs by improving the ability of IT systems to manage themselves.
In many cases, automation software can identify and fix problems without human intervention. For some problems, such as a major network slowdown or an application that is in danger of failing, automation software can alert IT administrators to fix the issues before they escalate. The software also can speed recovery time following a crash. The result is improved system performance and reduced IT human resources requirements.
The benefits of automation software increase as cities and counties offer opportunities for online payments and financial transactions. For example, employees of Palm Beach County, Fla., must be able to quickly retrieve documents such as archived finance and court records. Similarly, clerical records are integral to tracking such items as child support payments as well as complete criminal judgments and associated legal filings. Automation software can prevent computer networks from failing, which helps the county complete financial transactions and conduct business with minimal computer downtime.
To ensure that the county is able to process online financial transactions and has continued access to government documents, Palm Beach County invested in automation software to monitor, manage and automate IT systems as well as to back up all critical operations. The county installed AF/Operator automation software from El Segundo, Calif.-based Candle.
The software continuously searches the county’s network for error messages as well as specific alert scenarios and conditions. It also scans the system to ensure that commands are being performed, and it automatically executes responses to fix specific performance issues.
Because the county’s court system mainframes manage fines and other legal processing fees, enterprise downtime creates a loss of revenue for the county. Therefore, minimizing system downtime is critical. The automation software can quickly restart any network region following a performance slowdown, thereby significantly reducing missed revenue caused by system downtime.
Before instituting the automation software, Palm Beach County relied on multiple personnel to restart regions of its computer network, a process that could take an hour. By using automation software and custom programming, the county has automated the start-up process, cutting the system start-up time to approximately 15 minutes. Additionally, the county uses automation to check its data backup system remotely.
Automation software has allowed Palm Beach County to reduce the number of employees dedicated to mainframe maintenance by 40 percent. Meanwhile, the size and scope of the IT department’s responsibilities have grown. The county estimates that, by using automation software, the cost savings of recovering from one unscheduled outage will cover the product costs for the entire year.
The author is senior systems manager for Palm Beach County (Fla.) Information Systems Services.