October 28, 2008 By Tim Howell
A "Population: 1,205" sign from the year 2000 sits on the edge of Hutto, Texas --an Austin suburb that's now pushing a population of 17,000 and is expected to continue booming because of its strategic location that makes it both accessible and affordable. Since Hutto's conveniently located on State Highway 130, residents and businesses don't have to deal with Austin traffic, but are still less than 30 minutes from the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport and only 25 minutes from downtown Austin. Small-town life in Hutto is a distant memory.
As is the case with most communities that experience rapid growth, demand has increased and resources are exhausted, which requires the city to change its business processes to support its newfound identity.
My experiences as Hutto's IT analyst offer only a glimpse into one area of this citywide transformation, but from my rather unique perspective, it's interesting to see firsthand how a city can evolve and accept change with the right leadership, planning and support.
In 2000, the city had a 10-person staff, and I'm sure IT wasn't even in the city's projections. Hutto recently hired its second full-time IT position and now supports 80 users, 12 servers and six locations. We support the city's phone system, networking equipment, servers, workstations, software, technology planning, Web site, as well as some training and multimedia. In fiscal 2008, we had a $300,000 IT budget, but fiscal 2009 projections are about 24 percent less than 2008.
Growth means organizational change, and change is something I'm accustomed to because I'm a member of Generation Y -- those who were born between 1980 and 1994. We're commonly called Millennials. I'm 23 years old. But fear not, because if keeping up with the needs and expectations of Generation Y is something your organization is frantic about, then perhaps I am a beacon of hope and a sign of light at the end of the tunnel.
With that said, my first impression of Hutto was that it was so small that if you blinked, you would miss it. But little did I know that this small town was on the brink of a technology transformation, and of all people, I would be the one leading it.
My first glimpse of Hutto's network was in 2005 when I was hired as a consultant. When the first full-time position became available in October 2006, I was selected to fill it. At that time, the city operated on a few servers and about 60 workstations, the majority of electronic data was decentralized and much critical information was stored on local hard drives. It was a scary situation for Hutto because of its rapid growth.
As of 2005, Hutto had already moved forward with technology initiatives that would greatly improve efficiency. The city was implementing an automated meter-reading system for water customers, handheld electronic ticket writers for police officers, and a supervisory control and data acquisition system for city-owned water towers. All of those projects were great additions, but there was still much work to be done to provide staff with the resources and information necessary to keep pace with the growth.
Several factors were used to help choose our solutions and the route we would take to get there, but the "big three" were accessibility, scalability and centralization. Another important factor in the equation was cost, or in our case, future cost avoidance. With the amount of growth the city was experiencing and the demands on IT, the operations had to change to effectively manage everything. This led to our first initiative, the Citywide Thin-Client Project.
When this project was implemented in 2006, thin clients were relatively nonexistent in municipal governments, especially at the level we'd hoped to use them. Thin clients are trimmed-down computers that run a limited operating system and don't have any moving parts. The benefits were