In typically El Paso fashion, stupidity reigns in all aspects of government. This time it is the city’s website. The folks over at the ElPasoSpeaks blog pointed out the other day how the city’s website has been redesigned and the new version launched with problems. The problem, though, is that the website doesn’t work. I noticed this when I tried to access the city council’s agenda on Monday. The website’s links are broken all over the place.
On Tuesday, KVIA reported that individuals are having problems filing police reports online because, the website does not work. In typical fashion, El Paso officials excuse incompetence with excuses of changes create problems and they are to be expected. The problem, though, is that there is no excuse for the website failures. When was the last time you saw a commercial website fail as miserably as the city’s is currently doing. As a matter of fact, Facebook recently went down for about a half a day because of enhancements applied to the website. Although it was down for part of the day, by the next morning it was operating normally.
How many times have you read in the news that large news media websites or federal agency websites are attacked by rogue elements and at most, they are interrupted for a day? There are contingency plans in a professional managed website when upgrades and deployments run amok. There is always a plan B in a professional deployment.
Unfortunately, in its incompetence the city does not have a plan B.
Instead, the city tells residents “we are actively working on that as we speak.” Unfortunately, that is not the worst part of it, from the quote attributed to Enrique Martinez, City Information Technology Director by KVIA. The entire quote betrays the complete incompetence of the website rollout. Martinez states to KVIA, “There are some components there like calendars that have been identified and we are actively working on that as we speak.”
Excuse me? Components “like calendars” were identified after the website rollout. How much more incompetent can you get then that?
An Information Technology Director’s job is to manage and oversee the full operations of the city’s information technology infrastructure. An information technology director ensures that there are no interruptions of service. That is their primary responsibility. They bring everyone together to ensure that information flows and all contingency plans have been identified and prepared.
Instead, what you get from the city’s Information Director is that “with a website rollout of this magnitude there’s additional components that need to be modified.” In other words, oops we did not realize that there are interconnecting services that we should have planned for ahead of the rollout.
As many of you know, I make my living by creating and managing online platforms for clients. Can you imagine the reaction I would get from any of my clients if their website were to suddenly go down because I rolled out a much-improved upgrade? I can tell you that oops won’t cut it!
That is no question that technology is not perfect and any upgrade or change has potential problems. Professionals know this and plan for it. How critical is the component is the first question that is asked. I would argue that filing police reports timely, accurately and efficiently is a critical component. Identifying the critical component will then lead to the obvious question, will it work in the new environment?
If it can be tested before hand, it is. If, not a plan b is identified, tested and documented to put in place in case the critical component fails. Even if it passes the testing stage, a plan b is always on standby.
That is what an Information Technology Director is supposed to do.
In our case at Cognent, whenever we deploy an upgrade or a new project we deploy on two distinct servers. We normally run the new project concurrent with the old one allowing for testing by certain individuals. When we decide to go live, we point the primary domain name to the new project and keep the old one on standby. If we encounter a problem that can’t be fixed immediately we just bring back the old system and try again when the new system is ready. I have personally managed projects for governmental agencies and financial institutions so I understand that the city has a complex system in place.
The problem though, is that mediocrity runs through the city’s institutional veins and as such oops is the acceptable answer to the incompetent deployment of the city’s website.