Websites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube that have revolutionized the way people use and interact on the Internet weren’t invented the last time Tuolumne County invested in major technology upgrades for its government agencies.

The last major overhaul was in 2000 when the system was installed.

But next year, the county will spend more than $4 million in technology upgrades.

A February 2016 technology meeting of high-level county government officials has since been referred to as the “primal scream.” As detailed in the 2017 Tuolumne County Grand Jury report released earlier this year, the officials at the meeting demanded more responsive Information technology services to help them do their jobs more effectively.

“I think it’s going to make county government more transparent, more reliable and more efficient,”said Daniel Richardson, deputy county administrator in charge of the county’s Information Technology Department.

The planned upgrades go beyond the computer network and include the county’s phone system that’s over 30 years old and software that’s used by every single agency for essential tasks such payroll, budgeting, and hiring.

In November, the county Board of Supervisors approved spending about $880,000 to upgrade the computer network, $1.2 million to replace the antiquated phone system and $2.2 million for new Enterprise Resource Planning software.

The upgrades are expected to take between a year and 18 months to fully implement, with the network being done first.

Plans for the network include upgrading the fiber-optic lines that connect a myriad of county departments. The upgrades will also boost speeds for agencies located outside of downtown Sonora, such as the county’s Airports division based in Columbia.

Richardson said the improved speed for sending large documents and files, something that’s more commonplace and necessary with advancements over the past 20 years, will save employees precious time that could be spent accomplishing other tasks.

“It’s frustrating for them to not be able to do their work well,” he said.

After the network upgrades, the county will move to replacing the phone system that’s in even more dire shape.

It takes an entire storage room on the bottom floor of the County Administration Center to house all of the equipment required to operate the county’s current phone system, all of which will be made obsolete by the new hardware that can fit into a small space roughly the size of a tall gym locker.

As opposed to a traditional phone system, the new one will be completely Internet based.

Richardson said some advantages of the new system include the ability to receive voicemail message via email, call forwarding from an office to cell phone and conference calling, a service currently provided through an outside company.

Bob Chapman, the county’s IT manager, said the county’s current phone system is older than some of the 17 employees in his department.

Chapman said a significant amount of time is dedicated to fixing issues with the current phone system, which is more unreliable for the county’s agencies headquartered outside of downtown Sonora, such as Animal Control, Agriculture and airports.

“Whenever it rains, there’s a good chance the phone system will go down” for the outlying agencies, Chapman said.

The county’s voicemail also goes out at least monthly.

It’s so old that the county had to find second-hand voicemail cards last year to replace ones that got fried by a nearby lightning strike because the company no longer makes them anymore. Richardson likened the system to an old car that one day has to be replaced because they no longer make parts for it anymore.

Chapman and Richardson are also looking forward to the replacement of the county’s Enterprise Resource Planning software, or ERP, which is used by more than 100 employees.

Superion was selected to receive the contract for replacing the phone system. The Florida-based company serves 24 of California’s 58 counties.

The system will allow all of the county’s data to be stored in the cloud for easier access between departments. The County Counsel’s Office approved language in the contract to ensure the company adheres to the best cyber security practices to protect the data.

A simple feature of the new system that will improve efficiency is the ability to fill out time cards electronically.

County employees currently fill out a form that requires two clerks in the Auditor-Controller’s Office to type each into the county’s payroll program, according to Richardson.

The software will allow them to track the time that employees spend on tasks like seeking grants to better evaluate the return on investment, Richardson said.

There’s only one person left in the IT department trained to provide support for the current system. Four people previously able to provide support have since retired, though Superion will be able to provide round-the-clock support for the new software.

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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