Minneapolis doing tech makeover

In the e-government world, Minneapolis is still in the embryonic stage: Its Web site contains only information. The city's chief information officer, Karl Kaiser, calls it a "glorified bulletin board."

But recently, Minneapolis officials (www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us) began to overhaul the city's entire computer infrastructure and are developing e-government applications for citizens and businesses that will be citizen-based and available around-the-clock. City officials said that by year's end, the technology overhaul and e-government capabilities would push Minneapolis far ahead of similar metropolitan cities.

E-government services would include land-based data mapping services, such as criminal statistics and voting information, an online job application service and utility bill payments, to name a few, said Kaiser. The city is also in the process of installing fiber-optic cables throughout the city to improve bandwidth, he said, adding the technology modernization is needed to compete with other cities to attract new businesses.

Partnering with Minnesota-based bitsolutions LLC, Microsoft Corp. and Unisys Corp., the city is focusing on centralization. It is converting its entire infrastructure and more than 3,200 city desktops to a Microsoft Windows 2000 platform that will cost an estimated $700,000. That also includes converting to a standardized Microsoft Exchange e-mail messaging system.

Ray Zabilla of bitsolutions, the systems integrator in the project, said the city started with a distributed model that had 32 Windows NT domains and 90 servers. The system was difficult to maintain and support, and it was unreliable, vulnerable and prone to frequent outages.

Jason Powell, director of the Information and Technology Services architecture for the city, said the "push for a virtual city...requires us to be up every day of the week, every moment of the day."

That means the city must have reliable and scalable servers, he said, and a Microsoft Windows 2000 Datacenter/Unisys ES7000 platform would enable ITS workers to access and manage the city's technology environment remotely instead of having to come in over the weekend if there's a problem.

The change would affect 36 agencies and 5,000 employees. Powell said instead of ITS workers installing an operating system on each desktop, employees would get computers with smart network cards. So when they turn on a computer and log in, the computer would find the appropriate server and install Microsoft's operating system and applications, he said, saving staff time and costs.

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