Officials to Internalize IT Overhaul Push in Santa Fe, N.M.

Until recently, staff had relied heavily on outside consultants to manage the modernization of the city’s outdated technology. Now, an internal team will take over to manage the risk and move the project forward.

by Daniel J. Chacón, The Santa Fe New Mexican / January 30, 2019

The city of Santa Fe, N.M., will rely less on costly consultants as it completes a major initiative designed to modernize outdated technology and make it easier for the public to do business with city hall.

The city Finance Committee signed off Tuesday on a $2.7 million budget amendment that lays out a new approach to implement the $8.2 million software upgrade, which a consultant deemed to be at risk of failure last year if the city didn’t change course.

“The way it had been designed previously, project management was being done by outside people,” City Manager Erik Litzenberg said after a special meeting that the mayor and every city councilor also attended.

“We’re still using the contractors to do the technical work, but we’re trying to develop the capacity to manage the projects internally,” Litzenberg said. “There’s a transition happening.”

While many of the benefits of the overhaul are expected to streamline and automate internal operations, city officials say it also should make it easier for members of the public to obtain services, such as shortening the amount of time it takes to get a building permit and making it possible to track requests online.

Joshua Elicio, director of the city’s Information Technology and Telecommunications Department, said the initiative has an internal executive management team that “must manage the risk” and have contingency plans. The team is made up of Elicio, Finance Director Mary McCoy, Land Use Director Carol Johnson and Human Resources Director Bernadette Salazar.

“I have been in the information technology industry for well over 20 years,” he said. I have seen a number of high level programs implemented from cradle to grave and risk is absolutely necessary to manage on a daily basis because that will affect timelines, that will affect deadlines, that will ultimately affect the budget itself.”

Though the city governing body is being asked to approve a budget amendment, the initiative is still within the total budget established when the effort began in 2017.

The budget amendment, one of a handful of requests totaling nearly $4 million that committee members unanimously endorsed Tuesday, includes $300,000 to hire five new employees who will be dedicated to work on the initiative and $150,000 for additional training of city staff. In addition, the city plans to spend $24,000 for two additional outside reviews within the next six months to ensure the initiative stays on track and within budget in the next fiscal year and beyond.

The independent reviews will be similar to one conducted last year that identified a number of problems, including skyrocketing consultant costs, and triggered a 10-point corrective action plan.

City Councilor Mike Harris said he has developed “a higher level of skepticism” about the initiative over time. But he said Tuesday’s presentation gave him new hope.

“I find this to be one of the more realistic and straightforward presentations over the last 2½ years on the [Enterprise Resource Planning initiative] that I have seen. In other words, it’s believable. I was becoming very, very skeptical,” he said. “Part of it was just the lack of discipline that I saw, the unfortunate circumstance, the extremely unfortunate circumstance where [$400,000 in temporary pay increases were proposed] for different people to really bump this up. That was the end as far as I was concerned in terms of getting this in place.”

The temporary pay increases to 37 staff members working on the initiative were quietly approved on the eve of Mayor Alan Webber’s inauguration last year. The temporary raises were later scrapped by Webber and led to the forced resignation of former City Manager Brian Snyder and the retirement of former Human Resources Director Lynette Trujillo.

Other budget amendments approved Tuesday include:

• $961,000 for the security, repair, maintenance and other costs related to the safeguarding of buildings at the now-shuttered Santa Fe University of Art and Design. The city took full possession of the campus, which it owns, in June 2008 after the school, a subsidiary of Baltimore-based Laureate Education Inc., closed.

“This is a short-term step that we need to take as we complete our planning and initiate the redevelopment of the property,” said Matt Brown, the city’s economic development director.

Brown said the city learned as time went on that the cost to manage and maintain the property was more than originally budgeted at the beginning of the fiscal year.

“While proportionally small, the Midtown property carries the greatest strategic value to the future of the city by far,” city documents state. “As many people have said and written, it is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to significantly enhance the future of Santa Fe for many generations into the future.”

• $179,084 for retention bonuses for Santa Fe police officers in exchange for agreeing to continue to work for the city through June. The money is part of a $600,000 retention package that the mayor offered the Santa Fe Police Officers Association as a good will incentive to keep officers on the force.

A city document states, “These adjustments ensure we are in the right place and making the right investments, as we head into the next budget, to do what we need to realize progress on these priorities in the next fiscal year.”

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