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Out with the old: County getting hi-tech rehaul

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

When asked about the challenges presented by a series of new high-tech changes at the courthouse, County Information Technology Director Scott Hill had only three words to say:

"Bring it on."

Hill, who oversees the county's day to day technical operations and manages all things computer at the courthouse, has had some busy months and has several more ahead of him. With the Judicial Automation Technology Committee (JTAC) testing a new Case Management System (CMS), and the Auditor's and Treasurer's offices installing a whole new software system, it's been a flurry of watching, waiting, and learning for the IT director.

The County Council recently approved an appropriation of $225,000, allowing the Auditor's and Treasurer's offices to perform a complete overhaul of their computer system. Auditor Joe Dierdorf said while the old system was good, it was simply past its prime.

"In their day, those computers were really quick," he said. "But their day was several years ago."

Dierdorf said some of the old computers were still operating on Pentium I chips and their printer was so old it was hard to find paper that would work with it.

"That system was installed around 1988," he said. "The computers might as well be dinosaurs."

The new software, which is being installed by Low Associates, based in South Bend, will be compatible with several other county systems around the state. The total system will feature new printers, computers, and software, and all old data will be transferred into the new system by the computer company.

Hill purchased the hardware for the new system from the state, tweaking it to fit Low Associates' needs.

"We'll have one of the best county networks in the state when it's all said and done," Dierdorf said.

Several other offices within the courthouse are due for a major change with the testing and installation of JTAC's new CMS. The CMS will allow the courthouse to file, access, and transmit its data much more efficiently than in its current state.

Bob Mount, a JTAC field representative, said the county will soon enter user acceptance testing. During the testing, the county will utilize the software in fake scenarios, testing it for bugs and making sure everything works properly and efficiently. Approximately 5 months after UA testing, a final version of the software will be given to the county for practical use. Mount said the whole process should be finished by the end of this year.

Clay County is testing the civil end of the software, leaving Hill, the County Clerk's Office, and Court Recorder Lori Furrer to "play around" with it until UA testing begins. During the testing phase, up to 15 JTAC representatives will be in the courthouse, helping employees learn the software and noting bugs, or defects, they find in the CMS.

"We're expecting some defects," Mount said. "It's part of the process."

Other versions of the software that include the capability to handle criminal cases, among others, will be tested in other counties in the near future.

Of course, Hill will be there, learning the software himself and making sure the county's setup can handle it. While he has done big jobs in the past, he said this is the first statewide assignment he's ever had.

Three JTAC representatives were in the courthouse Thursday, basically learning the day-to-day operations of the Clerk's Office and taking notes. These notes, Mount said, will be used to make sure the CMS can perfectly emulate the office's current system.

"You've got 97 different counties doing things 97 different ways," Hill said. "There's going to be some learning, testing with mock data, but it's not as intimidating as it sounds."

Eventually the JTAC system will be finished and implemented statewide, allowing counties to process and share information faster than once thought possible. When it does reach that state, Hill said he will be proud to have been on the ground floor.

"It's exciting, and a great setup for the county," he said.

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