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As Detroit Seeks to Emerge From Bankruptcy, a Computer Crisis

As Detroit Seeks to Emerge From Bankruptcy, a Computer Crisis

Detroit’s new head of information technology says the city’s computer system is dilapidated.

Published September 8, 2014

In Detroit, which is seeking to emerge from a lengthy bankruptcy, there always seems to be one trouble after the next.

The latest trouble: The city’s computers.

During the bankruptcy trial, which is now in its second week in Detroit, the city’s chief information officer painted a picture of the information technology system as “generations behind” generally accepted standards.

Beth Niblock, who was recruited by Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, recently took the position of the city’s information technology director.

The city is advocating a strategy under which Detroit could rid itself of more than $7 billion in liabilities and, in turn, take more than $1.4 billion to invest in city services, which would also include the information technology equipment.

Niblock, testifying at the bankruptcy trial, described a city computer system that failed to function properly and was largely a part of another era.

She said that roughly nine in 10 of the city’s computers are operating on the decade-old Windows XP operating system or something even older.

“They’re atrocious,” she said. “Depending on what luck of the draw you have, your desktop can take almost 10 minutes to boot up.”

In her testimony, Niblock said that often city workers fail to receive emails. She said city workers send the email, but they often don’t arrive in the inbox of the intended recipients.

What’s more, Detroit officials have said, the antiquated computer system complicates the processing of the city’s ability to collect taxes as well as issue paychecks and to engage in internal communication between police and firefighters.

In addition, she said, the poor condition of the city’s information system makes it an easy potential target for cybersecurity attacks.  

Follow Jonathan Hicks on Twitter: @HicksJonathan

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(Photo: Courtesy of Beth Niblock)

Written by Jonathan P. Hicks

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