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South Bay Digest

Torrance : Computer Funds Approved

December 11, 1986

The City Council brushed aside criticism that the city administration's plans to revamp its computer system will cost more than budgeted and won't work well and unanimously approved buying $740,000 worth of new equipment and software.

The plans are intended to relieve a logjam that is slowing operations and leading to complaints by city officials who have taken to computers with increasing enthusiasm since the city created the Information Systems Department in 1981 and installed the forerunner of the present system.

Figures presented to the council showed that the city has reached what Information Systems Director Gerry Boutwell termed the "saturation phase" of the current system.

Between October, 1983, and October, 1986, the number of computer users in city government shot up to 227 from 43. In September, 1984, the number of requests to use the system was 42,828; in October, 1986, the number was 190,771. The system's main processing units are being used 99% of the time during working hours. In July, 1985, usage was 72%.

Boutwell proposed using the cable television network for data transmission, buying a new Digital Equipment Corp. VAX 8500 computer and installing it in a "cluster" arrangement with the city's existing computers.

Opposing this proposal were residents Erv Fleckstein and Larry Thompson, who identified themselves as computer experts.

Fleckstein, who is a consultant, said the city would have to spend an additional $500,000 for terminals, other peripheral equipment and software. He also said the proposal to enlarge the central computer system runs counter to industry trends toward decentralization through increased use of personal and mini-computers.

Thompson said his company, which he declined to identify, recently spent $3 million to put in the sort of system Boutwell proposed and that it had been plagued by equipment failures and system crashes.

Boutwell said later in an interview that he does not oppose stand-alone computers in departments that do not interact much with other parts of city government. Responding to Thompson, Boutwell said he had checked with other companies that installed the system he wanted and that they reported it worked well.

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