Lowell: Upgrades Streamline City Systems, Cut Costs (Technology Advancements | Winner 5,000-20,000)

In 2008, the city of Lowell’s computer network was in such poor shape that every time the electricity failed, nine or 10 servers had to be reset.

“Stuff was crashing all the time,” said Eric Seyfried, the city’s director of information systems. “It was kind of a nightmare to wrap your head around.”

He said Lowell, a northwest Arkansas community of around 7,300, had to scrap its computer system and start over “and work our way up.” Overhauling the city’s computer network earned Lowell Arkansas Business’ City of Distinction honors in the technology advancements category.

One of the first projects that needed attention was the city hall building, which was being built in 2008, Seyfried said.

He told the mayor that if the city was moving into a new structure, it required a citywide voice over Internet protocol system to bring every building and department onto the same phone system and data network. Both the mayor and the city council supported the improvements, he said.

Upgrading to the VOIP cost Lowell about $25,000.

Now all of the city’s voice systems run off of one network, and all of the city’s data networks run off another, Seyfried said. Before the upgrade, the city had numerous networks for voice and data, making it difficult for one department to communicate with another.

But the city wasn’t done. In 2009, the court system was improved to include a video conferencing option. That allows judges to hold bond hearings at the courthouse without police officers having to transport the inmates from the jail about 12 miles away.

That system cost about $4,000 for the upgrades and about $500 annually in maintenance costs, Seyfried said.

The city’s IT department designed, built and programmed a dispatch center for the Lowell Police Department in 2010. The city’s building services department received new servers and work stations in 2011.

The fire department moved to a cloud computing system in 2012. Now fire department officials have access to reports from any computer anywhere, or from an iPad.

The technology moves aren’t just for city government and related functions. The IT department created websites for Mudtown Days, Lowell’s annual event, and the Lowell Historical Museum.

“Taking all of the recent updates into consideration, the city’s technology system is comparable to many of the larger cities in our area,” said city hall receptionist Karen Davis.

It’s difficult to say how much the city has saved as a result of the technology enhancements. The police department saves money with reduced fuel costs and man hours because it doesn’t have to transport inmates back and forth to the jail as a result of the video conference network.

The computer upgrades resulted in greater productivity for the city’s employees, too. Employees can now access files quickly instead of “having to drill down through four or five different programs, searching through file servers that have 25 subfolders inside your folder,” Seyfried said.

Also in the fire department, using the antiquated computer network would take someone three or four hours to run some reports. “Now that same report takes six minutes,” Seyfried said.

The upgrade has “achieved its objective by drastically reducing user data entry and processing times,” Davis said.

The residents of Lowell also benefit from the technology improvements by receiving accurate information from the city quickly.

The next technology advancement is to have more mobile systems. Seyfried said he’s working on getting the building inspector mobile devices so reports could be filed at the building site.

That project should be in place by the end of the year.