IT - Leading with Price
In an effort to keep the fact checking process organized and easy to follow, I decided to take the top themes of the board meeting on 11/24/2020 and break them up into a few posts to outline the truth and fiction and realities of the way our village handles things.
At the board meeting on 11/10/2020, there was a request by the CAO to approve the new contract with Leading IT for Village IT Services. In my packet review, I asked a few key questions:
The service appears to be month to month -- are we sure we got the best pricing?
The letter that CAO Smith wrote to explain the increase states that the service will include Cybersecurity and the exclusions in the contract clearly state that cybersecurity is excluded.
At the meeting on 11/10, Trustee Eddy repeated my questions to the board and the CAO and the board agreed to table the motion so that more information could be shared.
So, at the 11/24th meeting, Trustee Eddy reports that she's been working with CAO Smith to answer these questions and while she intends to approve the contract, she was planning on looking into other services with the CAO to see if we can get better pricing. She also stated that month-to-month was the norm in these types of contracts. Then there was a little zinger added that Trustee Eddy and then was echoed by Trustee Berman that the reason for the steep increase in cost was directly due to FOIAs that are being asked of the village.
So, let's check the facts:
Fact Check #1: IT Services contracts are typically written to be month to month.
Reality: The vast majority of reputable, technology service companies prefer to do annual or multiple year contracts. Typically these types of contracts lower overall costs. As I found in one blog regarding the standard length of managed service partners (MSPs)
Finding: False -- typical IT engagements for best pricing should not be month to month.
I will add that there could be another valid reason that this needs to stay as a month to month. It appears that in IL code, the board can not enter into a contract that is longer than the term of the current president -- and that seat is up for election in April. This is not what our CAO told us was the reason for this needing to stay month to month; but I'll offer it as a valid reasoning.
Fact Check #2: The reason for the increase in cost is directly related to the number of FOIAs that Leading IT is involved in.
Reality: First, we should note that the CAO claimed in her original letter to the board that the increase was due to adding two services:
I've searched through Leading ITs lacking website and can find no reference to either of these services. But this statement doesn't call out "additional support requests" as a cause for the higher rate. But something about that statement stirred a memory.
You see, in another (completely unrelated) FOIA, there was a series of emails between CAO Smith and Leading IT. (Forgive me, these are screen shots of the FOIA exactly as it was delivered with words cut off -- but I think you'll see where this is going.)
First, in early June (6/3/20 to be exact), CAO Smith sent a restore request for an email box for our former Deputy Village Manager Shannon Andrews. Leading IT informed her that they could not restore the email box as Shannon had left the village in 2017, and they retain backups for 1 year.
This spawned a request from CAO Smith to increase the backup period (as it is required by IL Code under document retention).
Which then spawned an increase in our Leading IT services to add this Unlimited Backup services. I will note that the CAO did chose the $90/month option.
What's truly interesting about this is that I then checked the FOIA log and note that there is no request on the FOIA log that would have required any restoration of Shannon's email box. So, this is likely not due to a FOIA request.
But while I was looking at that FOIA, I found this little gem:
So, is it at all possible that the increase is due to running a server that was end of life and needs to be replaced. And despite this being told to the village in January of 2019, as recently as July 1, 2020; Leading IT was still trying to get the village to have hardware and software that is no longer supported. The risk with that is that opens the door to all sorts of security risks to have end of life hardware and software.
Finding: Likely Untrue. Yes, there have been a lot FOIA requests -- that's what happens when the board and administration continue to try to hide information from the public. There is no evidence that these FOIA requests are the cause for the increase in monthly pricing for Leading IT. In fact, one could argue that the current FOIA situation is temporary and should not require a long term (auto-increasing) monthly contract.
Unanswered: The CAO never addressed the cyber security questions with the contract, nor did she provide the promised additional detail on the these added services called out in her letter to the board.
Finally, looking at what are the other options. I dug through a few our neighboring communities to see what they do for IT services. I don't have the same knowledge of all their specific needs, but I looked at what was budgeted for IT services (which often appear to include website hosting and design, which is clearly not being handled by Leading IT.
Two such villages are Prairie Grove and Marango. The former is half our size and the latter is twice our size.
Prairie Grove Budgeted $6,300 for this fiscal year for their computer program.
For Marango, I found $4,000 budgeted for new website design and hosting and best I can figure out is that they pay $3,000/yr to the City of Woodstock for a line item titled "IT services"
By comparison, the village agreed to pay Leading IT, $20,400/yr with an auto increase of 5% per year. Maybe, the resident that asked if we actually got three bids was right --- her company saved 50% in their IT costs by bidding out the services; perhaps we should do the same thing.