Jun 18 2024

Q&A: Fort Lauderdale Modernizes Business Applications in IT Overhaul

The Florida municipality is upgrading much of its digital environment.

On April 12, 2023, the city of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., got 26 inches of rain in 24 hours. The City Hall basement flooded, taking the government’s headquarters out of commission. The deluge came as CIO Tamecka McKay was leading the city through a massive IT modernization effort.

With strong support from city leadership, she and her team have kept that program on track, despite the disruption. They’re modernizing business applications, all with an eye toward more robust and effective constituent services, as part of the city’s IT modernization plan.

STATETECH: You’re migrating to cloud, implementing a new enterprise resource planning system and transitioning to Microsoft 365. Tell us about that journey.

MCKAY: I was appointed CIO in August 2022, and part of that transition involved creating a three-year IT transformation plan. Phase one was to address all end-of-life technology infrastructure.

We had an aging infrastructure, aging systems. We needed to address critical security vulnerabilities first — upgrading and moving to supported systems, hardware and software — and then go from there to address resiliency and high availability. That includes the ERP migration, other auxiliary systems, and migrating to the cloud with Microsoft 365 and Azure.

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STATETECH: What’s involved in the infrastructure enhancements?

MCKAY: Our ERP system, for example, was previously on-prem. We had up to 20 onsite servers. With the migration to a cloud-based ERP system, we will no longer need those servers. Some other systems that were migrated to the cloud include specific verticals such as our city works and other business-focused systems.

Some of those legacy systems are still running simultaneously on-prem as part of the migration process. But in a short amount of time, the servers will all be decommissioned.

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STATETECH: What are the benefits of that cloud migration?

MCKAY: The main benefit is a high availability. When we lost our entire City Hall with less than 24 hours’ notice, having those systems in the cloud allowed those business functions to continue, even though we were literally — no pun intended — dead in the water with our on-prem infrastructure.

With Microsoft 365, we’re no longer saving documents and sharing documents on a server that's housed in a building that is susceptible to getting flooded or losing power or network connectivity. Moving those documents to Microsoft 365 in the cloud also provides greater flexibility if folks are working from different locations, including telecommuting.

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STATETECH: Any one piece of this would have been a big lift. Why tackle it all at once?

MCKAY: It wasn’t by choice. The ERP migration started back in 2016, before I even joined the city. But there were staff changes, and COVID delayed a lot of things. I would have preferred to do this over a three- to five-year period, but we were up against some critical deadlines and we had to pull the trigger.

STATETECH: How have you steered the city through these changes?

MCKAY: Last year, I held our first State of IT Services address to the executive team and business unit leaders to help them understand how we can better partner together. In the past, there’s been somewhat of a disconnect between IT and the business units, and it was important to me to bring them to the table.

For the end users, I like to do at least three to four communications on any change, and I have a nontechnical person review everything to make sure that it doesn't include jargon and that it’s clear to laymen.

READ MORE: Local governments plan for continuity of operations in a disaster.

STATETECH: What are some practical changes that have supported the modernization effort?

MCKAY: Our IT department supports police and public safety, and there are additional security requirements for accessing technology that handles confidential and criminal justice information systems.

During the migration, we only had one person that was certified to work on those systems, but that same person was responsible for the servers and the backup and everything else. Moving forward, we’ll have all of the team members certified. Reskilling allows us to share the load, and we’re building trust between technology and those business units.

STATETECH: Going forward, what’s your long-term vision?

MCKAY: We are modernizing how we deliver IT services, reducing silos and working in a more collaborative way. All of this will enhance service to the community, not just providing a highly available and strong technology infrastructure for our business units but enhancing how we deliver public services.

We will leverage smart technology, address the digital divide, and provide broadband and smart city services. IT will move from being a break-fix operation to being a strategic business partner and a community enhancer. That's my vision for our IT services.

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