Last year, I was part of a minority of Council Members (joining me were CMs Johnson, Tuthill, Goodman and Hofstede) who voted against extending the City's information technology contract with Unisys corporation without going out for bids. This decision committed the City to spend $34 million over three years, and locked us in with Unisys until 2013.
Those who were in favor of the extension argued that by not extending the contract, we would lose $280,000 in savings in 2010 and $1.6 million over the course of the contract period. These savings had been negotiated by City staff, and were from things like reducing the frequency of 'refreshing' our computers. You can find more details here
One of the counterarguments I and others used was that over the history of this contract, we have seen multiple changes come through as the City asks for increased services. As each of these changes has increased the cost of this contract, we fully expected the much-touted savings to be mostly or completely offset by later increases. I argued that this contract should go out for bids, and that we should look for ways that some of the necessary services could be performed by City staff, rather than Unisys. Those of us who raised these concerns were voted down.
Today, the Council took up one of the change orders that we warned would be coming. It would have increased the Unisys contract by $750,000. I want to be clear: some of the new services being requested by City departments may well be necessary and useful, and provide a substantial benefit to the people of Minneapolis. I am not ideologically opposed to spending on upgrading our IT services in wise and well-considered ways. What I am opposed to is the idea that we will continue to increase this very, very expensive contract with a private corporation, without going out for competitive bids, even as we cut neighborhood organizations to the bone and consider laying off vital City staff.
I applaud Council President Johnson for questioning this action both at Ways and Means earlier this week and at Council this morning. I was happy to speak in support of her. And, surprisingly, we ended up prevailing: the action to increase the Unisys contract failed on a 7-6 vote. Voting for it were Council Members Glidden, Hodges, Samuels, Schiff, Lilligren, and Colvin Roy. Joining Barb and me in voting against it were Council Members Quincy, Goodman, Reich, Hofstede, and Tuthill.
I hope that this vote helps us usher in a new era of thinking about how we achieve the City's IT goals and pay for these vital services. In this time when we simply don't have enough resources to go around, we must think creatively about which IT services are crucial, which we can do without, and how we could meet these needs differently. The pricey US Internet Wireless service that we don't seem to actually use very much should be part of this discussion. I would welcome a conversation about bringing more of our IT service in-house: in-sourcing rather than outsourcing. I believe that the City must be willing to explore things like open-source software.
When looking to cut neighborhoods or City services like Civil Rights, some of my colleagues are fond of reminding everyone that the world has changed. If that's true, our spending on IT should not be immune from cuts, even painful ones.