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Portland IT overhaul runs into delays, excessive costs

By Todd R. Weiss
May 15, 2008 12:00 PM ET

"The city, rightly or wrongly, I think it's safe to say, lost confidence in Ariston," Stoll said. "We think wrongly. Ariston's not fighting them about that. They wanted out of the thing and we said 'fine.'"

From Ariston's point of view, he said, city officials who prepared the project requirements and put it out for bid weren't familiar enough with their overall IT systems and needs, making the goal for the work an impossible target to hit. "It's sort of garbage in, garbage out, if you know what I mean," Stoll said. "I certainly don't think that Ariston made any mistakes."

Both sides say that the termination deal with Ariston, which the company and city are calling a "transition agreement," is continuing as both sides work to settle disagreements about payments for change orders that were made during the work.

"We're trying to get things resolved," Stoll said. "We hope that we're not going to have to take legal action. I'm very hopeful that the parties will be able to work things out."

Mark Greinke, who became the city's chief technology officer in February, said the IT overhaul project has been in the planning stages since 2001 as the city looked to bring together diverse systems, applications and data sources to increase efficiency and save money. The city has about 220 IT workers who oversee a diverse system that includes a 15-year-old IBM mainframe, IBM pSeries servers running AIX, an Oracle database backbone and a host of legacy applications.

The financial and payroll systems are included in a homegrown application that was custom built for the city, Greinke said. Because it was hard to add new components to that application, "shadow systems" were created by various city departments to add needed features that weren't tied directly into the main legacy application. What that created, he said, was a diverse IT system made up of single Microsoft Access database files, single Microsoft Excel spreadsheet files and more that weren't connected in a useful way. The new IT infrastructure is being created to tie all of that data together in a unified system, he said.

Once the upgraded IT system is completed, most users will be able to access the SAP applications through Web-based interfaces, rather than through difficult-to-administer, mainframe-based applications, Greinke said.

The city's IT overhaul isn't the only IT controversy making headlines in the city recently. Portland's municipal Wi-Fi system, which debuted in December 2006 with enthusiasm, remains stalled since last September because of a lack of money to complete it.

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