Thursday 9 May 2013

Moving gaily forward...

Wow - we are talking a completely new beast here.  The council is rigidly hierarchical and is essentially run as an old boys club by the speaker (who is retiring next year, apparently).  There is a major culture clash happening between the council old-guard - people who have been there for decades and who were born and bred in the area and people like me, who were brought in from the outside to start to affect change.

I currently have 3 team members.  One does mapping, one the address database and one the sort of spillover from the other two.  They have been at the council for ages, in one case since 1978.  They are all older than me and they are all from the area.  Mapping guy started off as a draughtsman for planning - proper old school technical drawing.  He is a very good mapper - but that's what he does - maps.  The software used - cadcorp - seems like a pretty decent piece of software with a lot of capability for analysis, but he's not really that interested.  He does maps.  50 something year old, divorced, balding, proper South London. Quiet type. H e has to give a presentation in the large-team meeting and he is terrified - has never done one before - but he won't admit it, so I am scheduling a few short meetings with him to talk about presentation stuff.  I like him - took him a while to warm up to me, but he seems like a good guy. The address guy is a bit more intellectually curious - he likes to tinker with data and is quite good with Access. The state of the address database is very good and it is mostly down to it being his baby.  He seems like a bit of an overgrown, 40something lad.  Very much no girlfriend.  I like him but he can be a bit of a pushy pain in the butt sometimes.  There is a woman then who sort of does the overflow for the two of them but is taking over the land terrier role, so will be a bit more busy. (Land terrier holds the records for the publicly owned property and is part of the planning system, but the records are transactional and are going to be a complete nightmare to make use of in another context).  She is quite quiet but I feel like she is trying to put the wool over on me sometimes.  One to watch.

I am then inheriting two people who work on street naming and numbering.  One of them I see no problems with - she is a fairly quiet woman - very intelligent - and just wants to do her job properly.  The other - well - the other is a loud-mouthed, chain smoking, hot-headed late 50s woman who is apparently in very bad health (has had serious surgery lately) who knows everything about everything in the area and has all the general tact and charm of a brick.  She is very important in her world and her job the most important in the council, and the only way to get her to change anything she does without a huge and very public fight is to play to this sense of imortance. There is a serious effort underway by me and my boss to get her to quit shouting at people.  Good times there.  I will likely also be inheriting the LSG custodian (road naming) and possibly the census and policy person.  This was all news to me when I got there!

In short, there is no GIS or data policy.  The council doesn't seem to be much on project or IT management, has no culture of data sharing, no council DBAs, no interest in encouraging in-house IT development and very little interest in thinking outside of the box (this being the heart of the conflict between old and new, it seems).  So, I have been tasked with developing, pretty much from scratch, the GIS policy.  A big part of this is going to be wresting some sort of minor control over our servers and our very-underused Oracle database.  Spatial data at the moment is scattered hither and yon across two servers and across the council.  There is an Oracle database for the planning system, managed (at large cost) by the GIS provider. T here is no test database and no test planning system.  The council servers are all in the basement - they used to be in a server farm, but as a cost saving measure, they brought it all back in house and have 3 different companies managing separate aspects.  The first server farm flooded. (oops) so they made another one - in the basement.  There is a single choke point - a NAS - hooking into the SAN in the basement.  All profiles are virtual - nothing is cached - and the whole council - 2500 people - grinds to a halt if someone tries a large print job or if (god help them) we try to open a large dataset.  It is an untenable situation and has been going on for many months with promises of it getting better at some distant point in the future.  Very cleverly, they fired the people who designed the system before having them fix the system, and the main project manager for fixing the whole thing admitted the other day, in a meeting, that no one knows how it works.  Good planning then.  Reminds me of the university computer setup 20+ years ago.  We'll get there- I just need to demonstrate that none of the amazing things they want us to do are possible with the current network.

I'm actually really enjoying myself - I like the people I'm working with and I see huge possibilities for the team, but wow.

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