Toronto wants a BlackBerry specialist

The City of Toronto might soon have a new technical specialist to support its 1,800 BlackBerry devices. But according to one councillor, the City’s first priority should be to deal with the municipality’s BlackBerry distribution policies.

The new dedicated BlackBerry technician is one of among 1,300 new jobs the city plans to add this year. The new position, if passed in the City’s budget later this month, will report into the IT department.

John Davies, executive director for technology infrastructure services at Toronto’s information and technology division, said the City currently has five staff dedicated to supporting all kinds of wireless devices, including push-to-talk radios, cell phones, pagers, data modems and BlackBerry smart phones.

“The City’s a large organization, so we have a lot of people who need mobility, including councillors, management, and staff who are out in the community,” he said. “You’ve got public health workers, municipal licensing staff, transportation crews, and Toronto Water crews, just to name a few.”

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The new specialist position, Davies added, is needed to help IT effectively cope with the smart phone and will come at a price tag of $84,000 in yearly salary.

He said the specialist’s duties will include assisting with device selection, rate plans, getting staff set up and trained, troubleshooting, and providing technical support for the Blackberry Enterprise Server infrastructure. The wireless IT staff must also ensure integration and synchronization with the city’s Novell Inc. Groupwise e-mail environment, he added.

“We are seeing substantial growth in BlackBerries and computing technology at the City in general,” Davies said. “Many of the City’s program areas are adopting IT to help them improve their services or make their services more efficient. So it’s not just about supporting this area, we have a lot of growth requirements that we’re trying to accommodate.”

There is no capacity to divert existing IT resources to fill this role, he added. “We really do need the position.”

Budget chief and Ward 33 Don Valley East councillor Shelley Carroll said the position is long overdue and will help alleviate and an already short-staffed IT team.

“I’m prepared to defend this one, because we’ll need far more,” she said.

“We need to have somebody who’s not only servicing them, but co-ordinating the use of them, and monitoring the inventory, where it’s going and how it’s being used.”

But according to Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre councillor Doug Holyday, the hiring of a BlackBerry specialist misses a fundamental problem at the city – the lack of a smart phone rollout policy.

“We’ve got close to 2,000 Blackberries and no criteria or policy as to who gets them,” he said.

Holyday wants to see more involvement from the IT section of the City to determine which employees truly need the functionality of a BlackBerry device.

“It’s a great tool and it’s very valuable to those who need it, but my problem is that we’ve given it to people who don’t truly need it,” he added. “But that’s the trouble with the City, they just open up their coffers, which (are) full of tax dollars, and it’s just too easy for management to say ‘I’ve got one, so my assistant need ones as well.’”

Currently, City employees are only required to complete a request form and have it approved by somebody at a manager level to receive a BlackBerry.

However, Carroll defended the City’s BlackBerry distribution methods, saying senior managers and directors can only issue the devices if they have the room in their division’s operating budget.

“Councillor Holyday’s statements would lead one to believe that the City of Toronto’s budget is one big jumble pot and we sift through it as best we can,” she said.

“The budget is highly controlled and highly broken down division by division.”

Carroll said that adequately staffing the wireless-focused section of the IT department will enable the city to move towards a private sector-like environment – which will allow for quickly developing modes of control for the municipality’s BlackBerry fleet.

“Right now, the control is budgetary. If you’re going to start to extend the use of them in your department, you really look long and hard at whether you can afford it,” she said.

“This is where we’re going and we either equip our staff to handle the BlackBerries or we throw a lot of good money out on the street because we’re not coordinating them well.”

Mark Tauschek, senior research analyst at London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group Ltd., said that while the BlackBerry specialist will be able to deal with the administrative and security issues outlined by Davies, the position will be especially crucial in dealing with the asset management issue.

For an organization with more than 1,800 devices, the role of the BlackBerry specialist, he argued, should be greatly concerned with cutting costs.

“You need somebody good in that role that can pick the right plans and negotiate pool and data plans,” Tauschek said. “Mobility spend is getting out of control in some places, so keeping a good eye on usage is important.”

At many organizations in both the private and public sector, IT has no visibility into how many devices they have in the field and why those devices have been procured, Tauschek added.

“And when you look at the average Canadian consumer, they end up spending three dollars a minute for voice calls because they choose plans that give them more minutes than they ever use,” he said.

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