Founded in 1795, Blount County is one of Tennessee’s oldest counties with an estimated population of 128,670, according to the latest census information. Governed by the Blount County Commission and the County Mayor, the County is well divided into 10 Commission Districts, with a total of 21 commissioners representing those districts.

The County’s IT Department, which is staffed by five professionals, provides technical support services to more than 3,500 County employees spanning all departments and elected officials (including the public school system).

Over the years, the IT Department never planned for, or requested, the resources needed to keep the County’s IT infrastructure in line with industry best practices. As a result, infrastructure, including network, applications, processes, and computers, was decades behind and without proper support. This caused the IT organization and infrastructure to suffer from the following deficiencies:

  • A general lack of leadership
  • Lack of systematic backups and disaster recovery plan
  • Frustration with the IT organization on uncompleted projects, unplanned downtime, lack of planning and communication resulting in siloed operations, infrastructure, and connectivity
  • Critical enterprise applications (AS400/COBOL – custom-built-in-house) that had no support resources or knowledge
  • Unreliable and antiquated telephone and email systems
  • A broad range of custom, non-integrated business applications that were built in-house and lacked documentation
  • Unreliable, residential grade internet connectivity
  • Significantly outdated network infrastructure that was void of support contracts or documentation

Since 2016, Avèro Advisors has assisted Blount County in assessing and modernizing its IT Infrastructure and enterprise technology through the development of a multi-year IT Modernization Strategic Plan (ITMSP).

Avèro conducted a thorough analysis of the County’s current state (AS-IS) environment and its user community’s needs. Through this approach, Avèro developed redesigned business processes and established best practices concerning, but not limited to, records management, payables, receivables, budgeting, and information technology services. The redesigned procedures and best practices were implemented to mitigate gaps between current state operations and the future state (TO-BE) efficient processes for all departments throughout the County’s departments.

Avèro Advisors currently serves as the project management team for the implementation of the County’s ITMSP. Throughout the implementation, Avèro has been engaged in multiple projects, including, but not limited to, the following achievements:

Implementation of a reliable, efficient email system

The County-wide email system was a web-based provider “Squirrel Mail” that was unreliable, barely useful, and lacked components such as large attachment management, calendars, and instant messaging. Through the modernization, the County’s email system is now on the Google Suite platform that integrates email, calendars, file sharing, video calling, instant messaging, and other productivity tools. The email system is also integrated with Microsoft Active Directory.

Website redesign that unifies the county’s services

The County’s web presence was antiquated, decentralized (many departments had their own unique sites), and lacked cohesive branding. The County’s website (www.blounttn.org) is now standardized across the board, giving it a unified appearance. Additionally, the site boasts advanced features such as social media integration, end-user Content Management System, emergency notifications, etc.

Improving security and connection with an upgraded fiber network

Avèro’s infrastructure team has upgraded the fiber optic cable and wireless infrastructure for County-wide locations. The County is now on a 10g fiber network that connects the main courthouse to other county locations. The Avèro team installed 100,000 feet of CAT 6 cable, standardizing this across the courthouse and all network equipment has been standardized on the Cisco Meraki platform, including smart routing.

All County buildings are now on the same network infrastructure, significantly enhancing security and data connection speeds. Internet services are now provided by Charter Communications on a 1g fiber connection and are supported by a redundant connection from AT&T.

Upgrades to existing workstations

Avèro collaborated with Dell to create a workstation image for each new computer. The County then decided to prioritize purchases for new workstations and upgrades to existing workstations. This project involved categorizing all active workstations using PDQ, then devising a strategy for Operating System upgrades from Windows 7 to Windows 10 since Windows 7 was no longer being supported.

Server virtualization

Moving from a plethora of unmanaged, physical servers, the County is now on a Hyper-V virtualized server stack that is powered by Dell. This upgrade not only consolidated server management but also allowed better backups, disaster recovery, and more efficient resource allocation and planning.

Active directory migration

Along with the server virtualization effort, Avèro assisted in active directory migration for the County. Initially, the County workstations were not linked to the network. This migration involved manually calibrating each workstation to add it to the network. The County is now able to access each workstation on the network remotely.

Network performance monitor implementation

The County implemented Solarwinds Orion as a network performance monitor to manage and record analytics for network performance. The reporting aspect was configured to allow a non-professional to understand complex network failures.

Modernizing the county’s help desk

The County redesigned its help desk processes using a ticketing system known as Solarwinds Service Desk. The user community is encouraged to use the automated system to create trouble tickets that are then centrally received in IT, assigned to the appropriate resource, and executed. This has allowed the staff to track work tickets and move towards data-oriented troubleshooting, trend analysis, and planning.

Service Desk is integrated with Blount County Sheriff’s Office and E911 to create a partnership between the different IT departments. Incoming tickets are automatically routed to the correct IT group based on the source of the ticket submission. The implementation of the Service Desk also includes Asset Management, Change Management, and Problem Control.

Open tickets may be linked to assets, scheduled changes, user profiles, or repeating problems. Service Desk was chosen because of the multiple other integration points in IT, including Solarwinds Orion (network performance monitor.) This integration will create a ticket based on network performance issues. Avèro issued a “rolling Go-Live” built up over several weeks to acclimate staff before immersing in the software.

Automating legislative management

From a largely paper-intensive, manual, and time-consuming process of putting together agendas, commission packets, meeting minutes, etc. the County moved to an automated Legislative Management system, Granicus. Granicus allows County staff to generate meeting packets for various legislative meetings, creates a workflow for meeting management, and automates the documentation process from start to finish. This cloud-based solution also allows video capture that is time-stamped according to actions taken during meetings.

Increasing cybersecurity with AS400 Managed Services

Blount County managed its financial (and other) processes using a home-grown COBOL based application built on an IBM AS400 server that was purchased more than 30 years ago. This application is further custom programmed on a platform that has been out of support since 2008, with zero documentation and very few explanatory comments within the code itself.

Moreover, the operating system on the AS400 server was not patched or upgraded for almost nine years, leaving the system and the data extremely vulnerable to hacks and other forms of breaches. IT staff had not received any formal training on the AS400 system. To protect and secure from data loss through hardware/software failure or security breaches, the County successfully outsourced the system and support (AS400 Managed Services) to a remote facility managed by an expert third party in June 2017.

Implementation of Financial Management Information System (FMIS)

The achievement of AS400 Managed Services ensures that the current system remains operational and secure and supports the County to accomplish the successful implementation of modern FMIS, known as Tyler Munis, in February 2019.

The implementation of this industry-leading, cloud-based software system not only helps County staff generate information faster and more economically with available features such as the PO Change Orders process but also provides real-time information and automated reporting to enhance data transparency and integrity. Furthermore, the County employees are well furnished with software support through various training sessions and up-to-date FAQ forums before, during, and after Go-Live implementation phases empowering knowledge and quality of productivity for better services.

Implementation of Enterprise Asset Management (EAM)

Avèro’s team has helped the County manage the implementation of an optimal EAM & Work Order solution, Tyler EAM, for its Highway Department. Project activities included current-state discovery and documentation for all departments, business process mapping, assignment & administration of workflows and permissions. The implementation of the Highway Department’s Tyler EAM solution was slated for completion in April 2020, ahead of schedule.

Upgrading Animal Center operations

Animal Center operations were hosted on an old Windows XP server, which was outdated and not being serviced anymore. Animal Center was planning to implement AnimalsFirst software for a few years before the incident. During routine server maintenance, Blount County IT took the servers offline and, after, could not bring Animal Center operations back online.

Avèro dedicated necessary resources to bring Animal Center back online with the new software as quickly and efficiently as possible. During this time between the incident and the software Go-Live, Animal Center was completing daily tasks using paper forms and did not have access to the computer systems.

Additional IT Services staffing support

The County was originally understaffed in the IT department and was unable to provide the staffing resources necessary for the modernization effort. Avèro currently provides ongoing support in the training and preparation of a self-sufficient IT Department. The County and Avèro have partnered in this project to integrate Avèro personnel in the County’s IT Department to provide a team of dedicated professional consultants to assist with daily project work. This includes project management for each step of the modernization effort.

Blount County, Tennessee

“Avero Advisors has been a Godsend for us here in Blount County as far as our technology, bringing us up and getting us to the next century. We’re prepared now to move and be able to do a lot of things. You all have been a tremendous asset for me to be able to lean on. I have to say this, if there’s anybody out there reading if you all need help in your counties, Avero Advisors are family. They’re not another business trying to make a buck. They care about the people that need help and they want to be there. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.”

Tom Hatcher

Circuit Court Clerk

Blount County, Tennessee

Blount County, Tennessee

“Avèro Advisors has brought IT advancements to Blount County Government that were 30 years overdue. This modernization process could have been a lot more painful had it not been for the ability of Avèro to build strong relationships that have endured through the entire process. This has been so important for our employees to embrace these changes and move forward with confidence in implementing multiple upgrades in a short time frame.”

Ed Mitchell

Mayor

Blount County, Tennessee

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