The City of Lawton’s digital needs will be acknowledged in the 2020 Capital Improvements Program that will be submitted to city voters in February.
The $12 million allocation is dedicated funding that would come in addition to the money that resulted when voters agreed in early 2019 to amend the 2016 Capital Improvements Program (CIP), deleting a category for alternative water sources and replacing it with two new categories: infrastructure needed to support industrial development and Information Technology (IT) upgrades for City of Lawton offices.
The change freed up about $17 million. The IT spending began almost as soon as the funding became available last year, as city administrators began a modernization effort that city department heads have said is badly needed and long overdue.
Gwendolyn Spencer, director of the City of Lawton’s Information Technology Department, said the new CIP funds will allow city staff and the IT Department to continue building on the upgrades already being put into place, focusing on areas that haven’t been addressed.
For example, Spencer said the city is using 2016 CIP dollars to rebuild the city’s data server, and working in areas such as updating CAD (compute aided dispatching), while updating the municipal court system in time for its move to the new public safety facility. Some modernization efforts are more visible to residents: upgrading body cameras and vehicle cameras for Lawton Police Department patrol officers, while installing new Toughbody computers.
Now, it’s time for additional upgrades in a digital system that is years behind and in some cases, so badly outdated that it no longer is supported.
Spencer said one of the focuses in the new CIP will be the water systems’ SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition), a digital system that tracks all aspects of the City of Lawton water system in real time, from water being held in towers to problems with flow in sewer mains. Modernization of that system will allow digital technology to replace a lot of work being done manually, Spencer said.
Some tasks are all manual. Rusty Whisenhunt, director of public utilities, said the city’s wastewater treatment system has a SCADA, but it is not operational. The city’s water plant SCADA is so obsolete, it cannot be operated and city staff cannot replace components.
“We can’t operate the system,” Whisenhunt said, adding that parts that have been replaced were found only after city staff explored alternate avenues. “We had to look on eBay to find a Windows XP.”
City administrators have said problems with the digital system are linked to funding. The City of Lawton hasn’t kept current with many of its systems and in the past has waited until it is time for total replacement. There is a way around that.
Spencer said one of the components to new IT upgrades is maintenance agreements, which will allow the city to “stay current.” The goal is to prevent the city’s system from becoming obsolete, preventing what is now going on. Those agreements with vendors are “a commitment to keep us current,” Spencer said.
“Ten years from now, the systems will still be relevant because they will keep us current,” she said, adding that if technology changes while new system components are being put in, those agreements will give the City of Lawton the latest version.
It’s the same argument City Manager Michael Cleghorn and his department heads have used: getting current, then paying for maintenance is less expensive than massive replacement.
“It’s cheaper to pay a maintenance fee than an update,” Cleghorn said.
Deputy City Manager Bart Hadley said the plans to modernize the city’s IT infrastructure also works toward what Cleghorn calls “virtual city hall,” or putting city services online.
“It creates the ability for residents to go online and do 90 percent of what they need to do, without coming into city hall,” Hadley said.
That’s important for a service-based organization when people want to do more things over the internet, Hadley and Cleghorn said.
“We’re moving toward that,” Cleghorn said.
IT modernization also is letting residents link into the city’s website to access routine data. That process already has begun, with portals called iHelp (allows residents to report problems such as potholes, downed trees and tall grass) and CCIP (Citizens CIP, which gives residents direct access to Capital Improvements Programs information).
It’s about transparency, Cleghorn said. It’s also helping the city place infrastructure.
Hadley said in addition to the obvious signs — a pond where there shouldn’t be any water — a SCADA system can pinpoint areas with repeated breaks in lines. That indicates a problem the city needs to analyze, targeting a specific line for replacement.
“The technology is in place to make better decisions,” Cleghorn said.