Thursday, November 05, 2015

Tag! You're IT!

Tonight, Trenton's governing body will, yet again, vote on a contract for IT Consulting services. It has become every bit as hot button an issue this year as it was five years ago under the Mack administration.

There have been a few articles in the local press, some good blogging by Kevin Moriarty, plus some extended commentary on social media. Here are three points that we think must be kept in mind when discussing this situation and deciding the best direction from here.

1) The shortcomings of the City of Trenton's IT system should not be blamed solely (if at all) on the current consultant, Associated Data Processing. ADPC is a vendor hired to support the city's various departments and their IT needs.

Over the years, many have commented on how the city has lagged in effectively using technology to increase the efficacy of its many operations. We've begged for more modern, up to date, services.

Is it the fault of the vendor supporting the existing systems that the city has not drafted a plan to improve the technology used or committed the resources necessary to execute a plan (if there was one)? NO!

If you know your car needs new tires, a transmission rebuild and a tune up but don't direct your mechanic to do the work and authorize the cost of same, is it the mechanic's fault that you can't get up to speed on Rte 1? NO!

If you talk about wanting to lose weight, quit smoking and get in shape with your personal physician but don't follow her suggestions on how to achieve those goals, is it her fault? NO!

Why are so many so quick to blame ADPC for the shortcomings of the Trenton's IT infrastructure?

Just read the documents included with the RFP and you'll see that in the past five years there has been few substantive discussions with either the past or current administrations about upgrading the city's IT system. Contained within in that RFP is an assessment report done, at the City's request, by the (then) current contractor, ADPC. Or we should say, a part of the report is included.

The RFP only contained 36 pages, about half, of the full assessment report. The parts that were omitted were the recommendations, evaluations of ADPCs performance, and lists of aborted or stalled projects, etc. The full report can be found here.

One example...stretching back to the Palmer administration, the city has been "ready" to implement a new computer based system for issuing parking permits and passes. This started when the current Mayor was the Director of Public Works (under whose supervision falls the Division of Transportation) and has been talked about through the Mack years and into the present.The city has yet to commit the resources (funding) to get this system up and running. That is hardly the fault of ADPC.

Another example, the city has failed to update and maintain its GIS system, rendering it somewhat less than useful.

In the full IT Assessment report, various departments rated ADPC's performance. We'll let the document speak for itself here.

2) The RFP process has, by all accounts, been seriously flawed. Flawed to the point where it certainly appears, at least superficially, that it was done in an attempt to manipulate the outcome. Let's start with the simple fact that the city's purchasing agent is not certified (nor does she have to be, by state statute, but she hasn't been able to pass the test). So how credible is the bidding process for anything when it is overseen by someone who cannot meet the requirements for certification set by the state?

With regards to the IT contract, the members of the scoring committee are somewhat suspect. Are they qualified to evaluate IT matters? Are they free of conflicts of interest and totally objective? Was the hired "professional" really able to evaluate a dozen responses from bidders in only the two hours he was paid for?

The mere fact that the administration only published part of the IT Assessment report, leaving out the solid recommendations and lack of commitment to upgrades and improvements is a pretty good indication to us that they were trying to push their shortcomings (and those of their predecessors) off on someone else.

3) It is very doubtful that FCC Consulting is truly the best firm out of all the companies that responded to the RFP. A simple review of the websites of all the companies shows a notable lack of professionalism in FCC's site when compared to the competitors. All of the other firms show at least a small staff and multi-person leadership. FCC's is obviously a one person show at the moment, run out of the principal's rented home. Not very confidence instilling.

What happens if FCC gets the contract? How quickly can he staff up to meet the demands of the work? Can he recruit people with the right skills and experience to serve what will surely be FCC's biggest client?

Does FCC have the financial wherewithal to manage this contract? Doubtful.

Mr. Carothers' business history is rather checkered. There are two judgments from 2008 and 2009 totaling almost $70,000 that are listed on the state judiciary website as still being open. Why hasn't he been able to pay these off?

The business registration for the various LLC's Mr. Carothers has created have all been suspended at one time or another for failure to file annual reports. Filing is a simple process, done online. And if your company goes out of business, you are supposed to file that as well.

Then there is Mr. Carother's personal history of bankruptcy and such. Again, not a lot to build confidence in his ability to successfully perform the important work that the city so badly needs.

So, what to do?

It is possible that there is a better company out there that can help Trenton move ahead in the IT game. There is really no way of knowing until the administration maps out a plan, on its own or with the help of a consultant, as to what it wants to achieve, when it wants to achieve it by and earmarking the funds and human resources to get it done.

For the long term, a plan must be drawn up and a timetable for implementation adopted.

In the short term, the city needs a capable IT consultant. Why not keep ADPC at least through the process of developing a strategy for moving ahead? And if not ADPC, then at least obtain the services of a truly experienced, financially stable vendor to handle the current needs.