One island, one city, one IT dept.

It’s not every day that 27 cities attempt to merge into one. After much debate, the city of Montreal and its outlying municipalities are going to complete an amalgamation by next year – “One Island, One City” – that will double the city’s population to 1.8 million residents.

Part of the process of amalgamation involves the management of Montreal’s IT infrastructure, which will increase to more than 10,000 computers over 500 locations.

According to Gilles Parent, division chief in charge of corporate orientation and new technologies for the city of Montreal, the project began two years ago, when the city issued a public tender and Computer Associates International Inc. (CA) won the bid to deploy its Unicenter family of infrastructure management solutions.

“First there was a money issue and second was the integration issue,” Parent said. “CA was very flexible. We wanted to make sure that the software could be installed fast and would not be left on the side because it’s too complicated, so the ease-of-use and installation were big factors.”

According to CA, its experience with municipal amalgamation undoubtedly weighed in its favour when the city was choosing a vendor. The Montreal project is not CA’s first crack at managing a municipal amalgamation, said Joanne Moretti, general manager for CA Canada in Mississauga, Ont.

“Unicenter is already proving itself at the City of Toronto – managing Canada’s largest municipal centre since 1999,” Moretti said. “We are confident that the Unicenter deployment at the City of Montreal will be just as successful in helping the city realize its vision of accelerated growth and strength in the new economy.”

Fabrice Zambito, a Montreal-based CA sales manager for the province of Quebec, explained the issues that come with managing the IT infrastructure during the city’s amalgamation process.

“The challenge is to manage the infrastructure to give better service to taxpayers, and with 27 municipalities, this is politically not an easy process,” Zambito said.

“The first challenge that we have is the help desk,” Zambito explained. “When January first comes around, the volume coming into the help desk will increase significantly. The help desk is going to be very much impacted by the city’s amalgamation, and it is crucial for this to be in place.”

Parent agreed that the roll out of the new help desk will be a challenge, not only in terms of technology, but also in terms of adoption.

“The biggest challenge (with the help desk) will be to change the habits of people,” Parent said. “In the small cities right now, whenever there’s a problem they have one number to call and one person to deal with it, who probably knows the people as friends. Now, there’s a centralized help desk. It’s a big change.”

The second deliverable for CA is the desktop, which includes three components: asset management, software delivery and remote control.

“The cities need to have a snapshot of the inventory that you have on every PC, and there are 10,000-plus PCs,” Zambito said. “Once you have the inventory, it is critical to standardize the PCs and the desktops. Unicenter enables you to push software automatically to PCs without running from one to another.”

The remote control access of desktops allows for the IT staff to perform installations and solve problems from a centralized department.

The final deliverable for this phase of the project is network monitoring. This ensures that routers, switches and everything else that physically connects networks together are up and running.

“From a centralized point, the IT department can monitor the complete network that links the IT infrastructure with Unicenter,” Zambito explained. “All of these pieces together create a clean, automated infrastructure.”

Rather than simply buying the Unicenter solution off the shelf, the city of Montreal decided to hire CA to perform the implementation.

“They bought the full CA solution,” Zambito said. “Unicenter is the software, but they also get the services that goes with it by engaging CA Services to do the implementation.”

According to Parent, the relationship between CA and the city of Montreal has been part of the reason that the IT amalgamation process has been so smooth so far.

“It’s been very easy to deal with these guys,” he said. “We have to deploy a complete solution with two times the number of workstations with five times the amount of complication, and CA came up with a very good way to implement the solution.”