Council reconsidering tech agreement

Minneapolis officials are looking to better use a large IT contract.

John Hageman

The Minneapolis City Council is calling for more oversight on how it spends its money on information technology.
The city outsources some of its day-to-day information technology services to Unisys, which provides technical expertise and information systems and runs the cityâÄôs desktop computers. All in all, itâÄôs a multi-million dollar investment that was first implemented in 2003.
But some Councilmembers are concerned that they arenâÄôt getting enough bang for their buck with the current deal.
As a result, the Council passed a motion April 15 that requires the Information Services Policy Steering Group to meet monthly and report to the Ways and Means Committee to discuss the contract.
The Business Information Services department will also prepare a quarterly report on ways to make the most of the wireless Internet contract.
The city pays $1.25 million per year to Minnetonka-based USI Wireless to provide services like fire department communication. But it only uses $112,000 of that contract annually, according to Otto Doll, the cityâÄôs chief information officer.
The city needs to start making the most of that deal, âÄúotherwise, weâÄôre just throwing money out the window,âÄù Council President Barbara Johnson said.
On April 1, the council blocked an additional $750,000 in change orders âÄìâÄì one-time expenses not written in the contract that are worth up to $50,000 âÄìâÄì to Unisys for the remainder of 2011.
But the Council voted last week to reverse that vote because of concerns that denying the funds would disrupt city departmentsâÄô IT functions.
Although the contract only calls for $1 million in change orders, the city has approved almost $3 million worth of orders to Unisys since 2008.
Those expenses include server upgrades and moving equipment to new offices. Most Councilmembers saw the vote as a necessary step to keep the city departmentsâÄô projects moving but remained skeptical about the deal.
âÄúAs much as my heart says, âÄòOh God, I donâÄôt want to give Unisys another penny,âÄô my head says, âÄòI donâÄôt want this cityâÄôs departments and their IT functions to fail,âÄôâÄù Ward 7 Councilwoman Lisa Goodman said.
Although Ward 2 Councilman Cam Gordon was the only dissenter in FridayâÄôs vote, he wasnâÄôt alone in his concerns about the constant need for unforeseen funds.
âÄúI cannot really imagine that some of these things could not have been anticipated in the contract,âÄù said Johnson, who was one of five council members last year who voted not to extend the Unisys contract.
Last year, the Council voted to extend the five-year, $49 million contract it signed with Unisys in 2008 until 2015.
Doll said there are some misunderstandings about how the contract works, and heâÄôll try to educate Councilmembers on the mechanisms of it in upcoming meetings. He said although the contract only calls for $1 million in change orders, it was anticipated that they would go over.
âÄúWeâÄôve used the meetings in the past to talk about higher level policy issues regarding technology,âÄù Ward 13 Councilwoman Betsy Hodges said. âÄúSo I think this will be an opportunity to do that again.âÄù