How Charlotte’s CIO Prepared for the Democratic National Convention

By Rachael KingWatch movie online The Transporter Refueled (2015)

First Lady Michelle Obama and party leaders will take the stage Tuesday at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte. What you won’t see is the massive effort by the city to boost its security and technology infrastructure to host this event. Here’s a behind-the-scenes look at how Charlotte CIO Jeff Stovall pulled together the IT infrastructure.

In roughly 18 months, Stovall’s team undertook more than 100 projects, some large and some small, to be ready for the convention. His work shows what CIOs can do on a pressing deadline. If you think rolling out Windows 8 will be a challenge, try upgrading your organization’s security, network capabilities and call centers and then inviting the world’s media to visit to see how well it works.

“There isn’t a blueprint for how to do a Democratic National Convention,” Stovall told CIO Journal. So, he looked for experts and he contracted with Molly Rauzi, the former CIO of Denver. She experienced the 2008 Democratic National Convention and helped him determine Charlotte’s level of readiness.

“We have gone through some rapid maturing of our IT practices in order to manage the size and scope of an event like this,” said Stovall. One big undertaking was creating an enterprise-wide project management office that could handle the convention-related projects concurrently with large municipal projects such as replacing the city’s 35-year-old mainframe ERP system and moving to an Intel-based server system.

Attendance at the convention is expected to be only half of what the CIAA basketball tournament draws to Charlotte each year. Yet, so many of the convention’s attendees are high-level government officials and media that it calls for a whole different level of response in security and telecommunications, said Stovall.

Some of the largest projects involved beefing up the city’s security. Stovall’s team installed a city-wide video surveillance system that required an upgrade to the network’s capacity and storage. “You can’t host a national security event without having that level of capability,” said Stovall, who adds that the city’s video capabilities previously were ‘limited.’ His team also installed a digital radio system with encryption for the police and fire departments. The city received about $50 million in federal grants to pay for security-related costs but Stovall couldn’t break out how much of that was spent on information technology.

“The biggest challenge was coordinating the different staff and projects that needed to take place,” said Bellverie Ross, who oversees the city’s program management office. For example, the city upgraded its five call centers to voice over IP technology that will handle calls to the 311 information system and also handle questions about bus routes from convention attendees. Overall, the city involved about 125 of its IT professionals in convention planning along with additional outside contractors.

Even though the convention has started, the work isn’t done. “We are running a 24-hour help desk today and through the rest of the week,” said Stovall, adding that Ross has created an auxiliary help desk for technology that has been recently deployed. Tuesday morning, Stovall and Ross were busy staging those help desks. With any luck, the calls will be few and far between.

 

Write to rachael.king@wsj.com