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The Download - October 2014

Project Management

Are You Prepared?

As you know, September was National Preparedness Month. The question I have for you is: are you prepared?

On September 11, 2001, I was working at a securities firm in New York City in the Wall Street area. I remember that day vividly; I can even recall the very distinctive smell that remained in the air for months after that horrific day. This article, however, isn’t to share my experience of that event. Rather, it is to impart what I discovered about being prepared. If I ask whether my firm was prepared for an occurrence of that magnitude, the answer would be "no." Our organization talked about disaster recovery and continuity of business (such as Y2K compliance), but the plan we had in place was not comprehensive enough to qualify as being prepared. September 11 was a Tuesday, and we were not placed in an alternate location until the following Monday. PCs were online and phones were up by then; however, once we logged in, we realized we couldn’t access our data. We couldn’t retrieve our backup data either, which meant a period of time without the necessary access to support our clients, who spanned multiple industries. This ultimately impacted the global economy, as we undoubtedly were not the only organization facing these issues. After that event and the resulting confusion, we became more extensive in our recovery planning, testing, and execution.

Fast forward to August 2003, in which New York City experienced a blackout that impacted the entire Northeast. This is another day I remember vividly. With September 11 only two years prior, the city was confident that it would be prepared in the event of a disaster. What occurred during this situation revealed a different reality. The blackout triggered a sense of panic, which quickly turned into frustration, and ended in exhaustion for many. The majority of the city runs on power (subways, trains, bus stations) and millions of people commute into the city daily. What I ultimately discovered that day was that the city was not prepared to handle the blackout.

August in New York is a time of sweltering heat. I, as many commuters do, lived in New Jersey. This left me with only 3 options to get back home: (1) Catch a cab – not a likely solution, if you can imagine over 1 million people trying to secure a cab ride; (2) Catch a bus from the central transit authority (Port Authority); or (3) Catch the ferry – again, with the amount of people trying to get a ride on the limited number of ferries, not likely. As such, I chose the only logical option and proceeded to the Port Authority to catch a bus, walking in the heat of summer to the terminal. Upon arrival at the Port Authority, I realized another lesson about being prepared. Just as the city was not prepared for this disaster, nor was I. Further complicating matters was the fact that my wife and then-four-year-old daughter, who typically do not travel into the city during the week, happened to be in New York that day for a doctor’s appointment. After we found each other among the hundreds of thousands of people at the Port Authority, we quickly discovered that there was no set plan for evacuation. We spent approximately 4 hours waiting, and my daughter was soon exhausted from the day’s events. I remember my arms getting weak and pain from my wrists to my shoulders as a result of holding her for several hours. After the long wait, the Port Authority "plan" was announced to the anxious crowd: everyone would be bused to Giants stadium in New Jersey, where there would be more room to sort things out. People were pushing and shoving trying to get on one of the limited buses – a very dangerous situation for us with a small child. After another 3 hours of waiting, an empty bus arrived and we happened to be one of the first to notice it. We ran as fast as we could and secured a spot on that bus. I collapsed in an open seat as my arms finally gave up. We took the ride to the stadium and the second round of chaos began. Hundreds of buses, thousands of people, and once again: no plan. We finally managed to arrive home around 3:00 AM - what a day!

Ultimately, what I realized from these experiences is that, regardless of the plans we may make, often we are not truly equipped to handle disaster. So again I ask you to consider - are you prepared? Furthermore, is Franklin County prepared? As we attempt to anticipate potential challenges we could face, both known and unknown, it is important that we continue to pursue projects such as disaster recovery and network redundancy. While we have accomplished much with regards to these initiatives, we must continually evaluate and enhance our plans for rapid recovery in the event of a serious incident. While we may not be able to foresee every circumstance, this vigilance will assist us in remaining calm and efficient during a serious event with far-reaching consequences.

Is Project Planning Really That Bad??

As an up and coming Project Manager studying for my PMP certification, I am learning the textbook answers about why planning is critical to a project's success. That is where I start comparing theory to reality and, let's all be honest, it doesn't really match up. This makes studying for the PMP certification test a real challenge: in my daily life, I am going against my instincts and making compromises to the textbook processes. Why? Because the reality is that we generally don't want to make time to plan! Often, the planning process is perceived as an obstacle to doing work. A frequent quotation I've heard from my developers: "Just let me start programming already, geesh!"

Why is that? We all love planning vacations. We love planning our dream home. We love planning our retail attack on Black Friday! We make time to plan for the things from which we are seeking value, so the same should be said for our projects. This is an area where both clients and service providers can have a second helping of ownership. I understand the hustle and bustle of a busy workday, and taking on a new initiative while keeping up with the regular workload is challenging. However, investing in a new piece of technology or an application that is going to improve your job and organization is worth the effort of planning, which is why the customers who will be receiving the product should make an effort to be involved in the process.

I also have seen the negative impact of inefficient planning from the service provider side. At times, "nonexistent" would be an even better word choice. I’ll admit to it as well: I, too, have played the role of wild and unruly code cowboy on a project. Thinking back to why I did that, and how bad it turned out on many occasions, I realize that I did it in order to please the customer by trying to offer a quick turn-around time on a solution. It was never my intention to give them a bad product; I just wanted to impress them and get the job done by the deadline that they needed it. The truth is, customers don't request work that they don't want or care about. It is the responsibility of the project team (both client and service provider) to invest the necessary time to understand the request and to challenge each other, when needed, on the solution. Ultimately, we all want the same thing: a product that provides value, delivered on time and under budget.

There is this awesome thing called the "10 knowledge areas of project management," and I’m learning all about it. It is a proven guide to successfully giving us want we all want in project delivery. We just have to make the available time to trust in this process…and if it will help keep you engaged in planning, I can nickname your next project "Bahamas."

Agency Communications

Centralized Repository for Agency Authorized Contacts

In order to enhance our customer service efforts, we have established a central repository for agency IT contacts and directors to grant and maintain authority for various resources.

The centralized repository was established for three key reasons:

  1. To replace information stored within the Service Level Agreement and other documents;
  2. To provide a single source to reference; and
  3. To ensure accurate information by requiring quarterly review and acknowledgement.

We are asking each agency to designate an authorized IT Administrator who will establish and maintain his or her authorized contacts for the following areas:

  • IT Administration - User assigns authorizations to other users within his or her agency (this permission level is only granted through the Data Center)
  • Communication Notifications - User receives important communications from the Data Center
  • Procurement Approver - User has permission to approve LINK tickets and to authorize purchases
  • Security Requests - User has permission to request changes to user accounts, passwords, and other security-related matters
  • Web Requests - User has permission to request changes to anything web-related within his or her agency
  • Data Request - MUNIS - User has permission to submit requests to pull information from the MUNIS database
  • Site Collection Admin - SharePoint - User has permission to make changes and decisions for the agency's SharePoint site collection
  • Data Board Designation - Member who has a seat on the Data Board, as well as his or her designee(s)

Data Center Business Services Manager Shirley Stephens will be reaching out soon to begin the process of collecting your agency’s information and establishing user roles.

IT Communication Survey

Have you received a Communication Survey from the Data Center? If so, have you completed it? We value your input regarding our avenues of communication and the type of information that is distributed to you, and we hope that you will take a few minutes to complete the survey to offer comments and suggestions. Your feedback is very important to us.

Tech Corner

National Cyber Security Awareness Month

"National Cyber Security Awareness Month is designed to engage and educate public and private sector partners through events and initiatives with the goal of raising awareness about cybersecurity and increasing the resiliency of the nation in the event of a cyber incident" (http://www.dhs.gov/national-cyber-security-awareness-month-2014).

In the video below, we discuss ways to make your account passwords more secure and what to do if you suspect that an account has been compromised.

IT Leadership Forum

September IT Leadership Forum Overview

The September 2014 IT Leadership Forum was hosted by the Franklin County Board of Elections (BOE). BOE Director William Anthony and Deputy Director Dana Walch welcomed the group and provided a description of the new BOE facility, including how they can better support the fluctuating intensity of early voting by having their full staff on-site. They extended an invitation to other Franklin County agencies to use their large meeting room during non-election months as well.

Carolyn Gorup, Manager of Elections Technology, reviewed the history of requests for absentee voting forms. Due to changes in the voting laws, requests increased from 50,000 in 2004 to nearly 250,000 in 2012. Carolyn demonstrated how AnyDoc Intelligent Character Recognition Software has allowed the Board of Elections to keep pace with this huge increase without needing to hire additional data entry staff.

Dennis Landuyt, Assistant Manager of Elections Technology, demonstrated a mass e-mailing program that he developed to help the Board send bulk email. Nate George, IT Director for the Prosecuting Attorney, provided an example of how his office is using the program. Other agencies interested in utilizing the program can contact Mr. Landuyt at the BOE for more information.

Adam Luckhaupt, Board of Commissioners CIO, announced that his office was working on a 2015 ITB for purchasing County PC, laptop, and tablet hardware. Tonya Kahley, Data Center Project Manager, updated the attendees on the planned outage to update the Exchange server.

Shirley Stephens, Business Services Manager for the Data Center, informed the group that the Data Center will be sending out a survey regarding communications. She reminded the attendees that there was still time to register for the Ohio Digital Government Summit. Lastly, there was some discussion about the Data Center’s experiences with the Everbridge Notification System, and Shirley urged the group to contact JPU/Homeland Security if they desired an account for their agency.

The IT Leadership Forum allows administrators and IT professionals from Franklin County agencies to share their experiences, discuss challenges, and find avenues for collaboration. The forum is hosted monthly with different county agencies serving as the sponsor for each meeting. The October 2014 meeting is scheduled to be hosted by the Franklin County Data Center.