Working Towards the Ideal System

Dean E. Shankle, Administrator, Town of Hooksett

The information contained in this article is not intended as legal advice and may no longer be accurate due to changes in the law. Consult NHMA's legal services or your municipal attorney.

Alton is a town of just over 5,000 people located on the shore of Lake Winnipesaukee.  Like all towns—big or small—Alton is always searching for ways to use technology to provide its citizens with more efficient services while keeping costs down.

To aid in this search, Alton brought on Josh Monaco, the town’s Information Technology (IT) Administrator. Josh is the perfect fit for this position, with his strong educational and practical experience in technology and his motivation to better his skills through continuing self-study in the field.

Although this IT Administrator spends the bulk of his time administering the network—maintaining the servers, running wiring, and making sure the network and the computers attached to it are up and running—Josh’s main objective is increasing system efficiencies. Here are some accomplishments—and tips for you—that Josh has gained through his quest to make Alton more technologically efficient:

Go virtual: When Josh first arrived, the town had ten physical servers running. This hardware created significant costs for maintenance, software, and operations. By virtualizing the servers and upgrading the software they were running, he was able to reduce the number of physical servers to two. This resulted in savings of both time and money, while providing an increased level of service to town residents.

Increase public safety: During 2014, Josh assisted the police department with a major upgrade of its systems, including installation of computer systems in the cruisers and updating the network.

Communicate better (and more securely): He also upgraded the town’s email system and was instrumental in policy changes to help avoid infection and in raising awareness of network security threats. Integrating open-source software saves money (and time) because there is no licensing fee, and the software can be “tweaked” if necessary for a specific implementation while simplifying processes.

Don’t be afraid of trial and error: Josh convinced town staff to try a one week trial of OpenOffice, free software that takes the place of MS Office. However, after the week was over, he decided to revert back to MS Office because people wanted to stick with what they were familiar with. Trial and error can be necessary to determine what works best for your town, and you must take into account the needs of your staff and the practicality of training employees on new software.

Do your research: The OpenOffice trial did not discourage Josh from looking for more open-source solutions, and he continues to look for a program that might better suit Alton. In fact, he is currently very excited about a software package he is investigating called X2Engine, which is a Customer Relations Management (CRM) system. Josh feels that by making a few adjustments, this software could be used for complaint management, service requests, and tracking, as well as a document repository. Although the software would need to be installed on a different type of server (a Linux server), Josh says he has the knowledge to set up and maintain it, without requiring outside help, thus creating no additional costs to the town.

Keep Updating: Since he works by himself, Josh has continued adding to his skill set as the need arises. He is currently doing some upgrades to the town’s website and has learned HTML and CSS to facilitate this process. And if you feel like there is an absence of software designed to assist smaller municipalities, you are not alone: although this sometimes frustrates Josh, he takes it in stride and keeps learning and updating his knowledge so that he can keep improving the town’s efficiency. For example, he is presently looking for a solution for code enforcement and laments that he has yet to find one at a reasonable cost without a multitude of features that are unnecessary for a small municipality. On the other hand, Josh may have finally found a more efficient and streamlined system for cemetery records management through as program called Pontem.

Josh is a member of the NH LoGIN (Local Government Information Network), an affiliate group of the New Hampshire Municipal Association, whose goal is sharing information with other communities to help everyone save time and money. As you might imagine, Alton town employees frequently sing his praises, including Assessor Tom Sargent, who knows he can get a problem fixed within a reasonable time if he calls on Josh for assistance.

Importantly, Josh credits Town Administrator Russ Bailey with his success by supporting Josh’s quest to find better technology solutions for Alton. Of course, it also helps that Josh truly enjoys his work. But, above all, it is probably Josh’s lack of satisfaction that keeps him improving and working to create an “ideal system” for Alton.

Dean E. Shankle, Jr., Ph. D, is treasurer of NHLoGIN, an affiliate group which has helped government officials and employees from all over New Hampshire collaborate with each other for over 13 years. Mr. Shankle also serves as town administrator in the Town of Hooksett.