Beth Niblock moved to Detroit as CIO to transform the crumbling, antiquated IT operation and infrastructure. Here's what her team has accomplished in 4 years with the limited resources available to a city in bankruptcy.
When Beth Niblock arrived in Detroit as part of a technology team brought in to help rescue the city, she faced a host of urgent and significant problems. The city didn't have working streetlights. The trash wasn't being picked up, and the city was in bankruptcy and being administered by an emergency manager.
She came onboard as CIO of the city in February 2014, and four years later the city's crumbling technology infrastructure is on the mend. The city emerged from financial oversight on April 30, two days before Niblock shared the highlights of her effort and how she got it done during a keynote onstage interview with Code for America Founder and Executive Director Jennifer Pahlka at Interop ITX.
Niblock started out with about 60 team members in her IT organization, and more than half of them were contractors. Detroit's IT salaries weren't competitive -- network engineers with two decades of experience were making $50,000, for example, she said.
Niblock consolidated all of Detroit's IT operations, which had been divided among many different departments, so that she could increase that initial 60 headcount to 136. The mayor worked with her to speak up about the need make the job benefits more competitive. Niblock said she also worked to sell job candidates on the element of public duty that went with working for the city of Detroit.
There were plenty of other challenges, too. Niblock said that 85% to 90% of the city's computers were Windows XP or older. They couldn't be patched, and the network wasn't working. The mail wasn't being delivered. Detroit still used Novell NDS instead of Active Directory. (and they are still using GroupWise.)
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