Conway is one of thousands of public and private entities nationwide trying to figure out what to do about a widely used computer operating system that will be "orphaned" early next year.
Like many American cities, Conway’s information technology networks rely heavily on computers running Microsoft’s Windows XP operating system. On April 14, however, Microsoft will abandon XP and provide no further technical assistance or updates, including updates designed as responses to "hacker" type attacks or to close network security loopholes.
Lloyd Hartzell, the city’s information technology director, said that he’s asked for $180,000 to replace or update about 200 city-owned computers, most of them in use at the Conway Police Department.
After Microsoft quits supporting its XP system, Hartzell said, "updates will quit, and any bugs, any holes and anything [computer hackers] find opens it up."
"That’s going to leave systems open; we have our financial system, 9-1-1, fire department, police private records, criminal records, those kinds of things," he said. "There would be a serious security issue."
Generally speaking, Hartzell said, computers less than four or five years old can be updated; older machines will have to be replaced.
David Hinson, executive VP and chief information officer at Hendrix College, agreed.
"At this point it’s going to be a really big deal because after April you won’t be able to get any bug fixes or system corrections online, so you’ll leave your systems vulnerable to attack," Hinson said. "I would think [city officials] would want to [update from XP] right away."
Jack Bell, city chief of staff, said that updating before Microsoft drops XP is a priority, but that the current draft of the 2014 budget does not have any money allocated specifically for addressing the XP problem.
"Right now, our view of it is that the council will look at that through the [coming] year and see what funds are available."
The 2014 budget is still a work in progress. It must, by state law, be written as a balanced budget and approved by Jan. 31 by the Conway City Council. However, a $313,000 hit to the city general fund came this month when the council approved new city employee health insurance plans in response to a premium increase by the city’s insurance carrier. Largely in response to the premium increase, the 2014 budget is written with little-to-no capital purchases for city departments, including widespread system updates as would be required to update XP systems. Also, the current draft of the budget is written with projected "flat" sales tax, meaning no increase in sales tax revenue over 2013.
"That’s part of what was cut out of the budget," Hartzell said of the XP updates. "[The council members] know about it, and the mayor knows about it… they’ve got a hard job over there and I don’t know what the answer is."
Members of the council have been talking about figuring out a way to "find" more money in the budget to cover the health insurance premium increase and other possible or expected non-budgeted expenses without having to resort to a franchise fee increase, which is effectively a tax on city utility customers.
CPD public information officer Sean Canady said that CPD’s record management system, which includes everything from car crash reports to evidence logging, has become "more and more technology-driven over the past few years," and that "when the city’s IT department tells us we need to update or upgrade our systems we take their advice — after all, they are the subject matter experts."
County Judge Allen Dodson said that he was confident that the county’s IT department is "generally nimble enough that those things aren’t going to bother us," and that he believed many county computers have been updated from XP. Also, he said, "We’re going to urge the elected officials over here who purchase their computers on their own budget to update their system by the sunset date." County Sheriff Andy Shock said that he thought there were less than a half dozen computers in his department running XP.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)