WESTBROOK – City officials are planning to outsource municipal technical support and information technology to a Portland firm, in a trial that could eventually expand to include school district IT management.

The City Council voted in a first reading this week to approve a contract with Portland-based Unified Technologies. The vote was unanimous, with Councilor John O’Hara absent. The council will have to vote to approve it a second time to make it official.

The idea, if the council gives final approval, is for the company to take over all the IT needs at City Hall and the public safety building, as well as any other municipal technical support the city needs.

Among other duties, that includes maintaining a dozen servers and 150 desktops and laptops, according to a detailed proposal by the company. City Administrator Jerre Bryant said that includes all laptops used by public services and the code enforcement officer, as well as all in-cruiser laptops and other laptops used by public safety.

The school district still maintains its own IT staff. Bryant said the city used to have a director of technology, Tyler Dunphy, who was technically employed by the school district but oversaw IT management for the whole city.

Dunphy resigned this year in April to take a job with Unified Technologies. At the time, Bryant said, the tech department had already had a couple of other vacancies, so the city began considering what other options were available instead of simply replacing personnel.

“As personnel changes, sometimes you have to modify your approach,” Bryant said. “We want to look at outsourcing and see how it works.”

Bryant said Unified Technologies has been helping the city with IT needs on an “on-call” basis since the vacancies occurred, and the proposed contract would bring the company on in a more extensive fashion.

The contract, if approved, will involve a one-time fee of $7,650, and a monthly fee of $15,000, starting in September and ending on June 30, 2012. Bryant said it will cost a total of $161,950. By contrast, Bryant said the city’s budget for that same time period for in-house IT services is $188,000.

“It’s not going to cost us any more, and it looks like we’re going to have a slight cost savings,” Bryant told the council at its Monday night meeting.

City Councilor Paul Emery, remarking on the $26,000 cost savings, replied by saying, “That’s a very nice ‘slight.’”

Councilor Victor Chau also supported the contract, noting that Dunphy worked for the company, and his experience with Westbrook’s IT needs would make it much easier for the city to work with the firm.

“Everything seems very reasonable for what we’re trying to do,” he said.

The move follows another personnel change connected to IT in the school district. In a written description of the agenda item for the council Monday night, the city indicated a need to keep some in-house IT services in the school district “due to some immediate needs in the school department and the close integration of technology in the academic curriculum.”

The school district just recently created the position of director of operations, to be filled by former Canal School Principal Jeremy Ray. Among many other duties, the director of operations will handle the administration of IT services, managing the IT staff for the district.

Bryant said it is conceivable that the outsourcing contracts could be expanded to include the school district in time, if this initial experiment works. For now, Bryant said, the school district is not included.

“We’re a little more hesitant to make that leap,” Bryant said.

According to the Unified Technologies proposal to the city, the company has worked with the city on maintaining its phone systems for the past 15 years, and helped provide the cabling for the new public safety building on Main Street.

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