Sept. 29, 2011
By Adam White
Information technology took center stage at the Williston Selectboard’s meeting on Monday, as Board members and town staff examined the present impact of computers on town functions and examined a path to more effective usage in the future.
Town manager Rick McGuire presented the Board with some ideas for incorporating cloud functions into the town’s computers, to create a safer and more reliable backup system. McGuire said that even external drive or other recorded backups would have limited value if the original software used to create documents or records was lost.
Cloud computing involves having data backed up remotely by a contracted company, on its own hardware systems. McGuire said it creates a more stable backup system that is also easier to organize and access.
“Every day, there are many, many documents that come across my desk,” McGuire said on Tuesday. “The amount of paper can be overwhelming, and everyone has a different concept of categories when it comes to filing. With electronic filing, you can use search engines to find key words or dates within a document.”
McGuire recently returned from the International City Managers Association conference in Milwaukee, where he attended a seminar on cloud computing. He said the topic was of interest to him prior to that, as he had begun exploring its implementation to back up documents and records within the town manager’s office.
McGuire asked the Board how it intends to address a goal outlined at the last Selectboard retreat in April — utilizing “different forms of communication in order to increase or facilitate greater public input/information.”
Board member Chris Roy suggested offering internship opportunities to interested Champlain Valley Union High School students, in order to put “less of a burden on staff” and tap into a younger perspective on things like social media.
Fellow Board member Jeff Fehrs admitted that students might be better suited for working with sites like Facebook and Twitter.
“The way the world communicates is changing,” Fehrs said. “I’m just not a good resource for those tools. (But) there could be some very exciting opportunities there.”
Board member Jay Michaud asked McGuire whether the town’s website was built around proprietary or open architecture, saying that the latter would allow volunteers from local schools and colleges to get involved with the project.
“These kids just eat this stuff up. They go for it, and make things happen,” Michaud said, adding that he has experience working with such technologically inclined students and could assist with finding some to help the town. “I would like to … help facilitate that.”
Fehrs asked McGuire if the town employs a dedicated IT technician to oversee its computer systems. McGuire said Williston is trying to move in the opposite direction, and become less reliant on outside assistance by training its personnel on more manageable software and systems.
“We’ve been able to get by without having dedicated IT people,” McGuire said, adding that he maintains the town’s website largely on his own.
The Selectboard is scheduled to meet again on Oct. 3.