Alexandria government gets smarter with tech upgrade


City Hall sits in antique-laden Old Town, but behind its doors employees are transitioning away from outdated technology.

The government expects savings of $1 million in the next six years after outsourcing e-mail services to Microsoft Outlook and moving from Blackberry to rival Android and Apple smart phones. 

Officials began moving on the technology overhaul after a 2010 assessment recommended dropping IBMs Lotus Notes in favor of cloud computing. Where e-mail data was once housed internally, now it will be stored on Microsofts servers, said Tom Trobridge, Alexandrias IT director. 

The city for the longest time has run on Lotus Notes, a fairly old, antiquated e-mail platform, Trobridge said. The citys email will now be hosted in a Microsoft environment as opposed to locally with the city. There are a number of advantages to that, including disaster recovery, ease of access, and really ubiquitous access you can now get your city e-mail anywhere.

But officials ran into trouble when they looked at synchronizing e-mail with city-issued Blackberry devices. At the time, linking email to the phones would have cost $120 per phone, annually, Trobridge said.

When they learned swapping the Blackberry for the increasingly popular Apple iPhone or Google Android platforms would cost less, they jumped. City Hall pays a flat $50 fee for the new phones, but without any extra charges for synchronizing e-mail. 

About 400 employees in all but two departments have switched to Androids or iPhones and though theyre not top-of-the-line devices, city workers now have a choice when it comes to smart phones, Trobridge said. 

For the same price, were giving people options. Its not costing the city anything and improving the mobile experience, he said. We had signed our contract with Mircosoft before New York City or Minnesota. At the end of the day its given employees a more efficient, more user-friendly platform.

Not all city workers will receive the devices. Department heads had final say over who would be issued the phones, in most cases critical employees, like public safety officials, Trobridge said. 

Cloud computing at least when it comes to e-mail also means employees can work through local Internet outages, he said. Were the citys internal Internet access disrupted, workers could still check their email at home or anywhere else they could connect online. 

In another technological leap, the citys communications department opted for a first generation iPad over a new laptop about three months ago, according to Director Tony Castrilli. The change reflects the departments focus on social media and frees staff from carrying around paperwork, he said.