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City of Austin doesn’t track technology it purchases, audit finds

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The City of Austin doesn’t know how much it spends on technology each year and doesn’t keep a citywide inventory of the technology it owns. These are just a couple of the findings in a new city auditor’s report.

The audit, presented to several city council members this week, notes there are several issues with the city’s process to purchase technology.  

Planning for purchases is largely left to individual departments and not done consistently or coordinated, according to the audit. The city’s process to purchase technology generally involves multiple parties, like city council, the Communications & Technology Management Department, the Corporate Purchasing Office and other city departments.

Auditors looked at the city’s technology purchasing process between 2019 and 2021. They paint a picture of a dysfunctional process which lacks communication or knowledge of what the city already owns.

“Imagine you are living in a house with four other roommates who do not communicate much. Each of you goes to the grocery store and buys food, but none of you has a list or knows what is in the pantry before you go,” auditors wrote metaphorically. “When everyone gets home, how much food did you buy that was already in the house? How many of you bought the same thing? This is like how the City buys technology except the City’s process is on a much larger scale.”

The audit detailed examples of city departments buying technology that does not meet or align with the city’s needs.

In one instance, a department spent $36,000 on tablets for staff to use in the field. After receiving the tablets, the department discovered they would not work with the department’s software, and the department shelved them, according to the audit.

The audit references another example where a department needed to find a way to track its inventory and the city’s Communications & Technology Management Department suggested an existing city system. The department later discovered that system could not track all its inventory.

Regarding a technology inventory, auditors noted they recommended the city establish an inventory in two previous reports. City management expects to have an inventory completed in 2022, according to the new report.

“Having an inventory of technology assets is key to avoid duplicate, wasteful purchases,” reads the audit. “It is also key to ensure the City buys technology that aligns with Citywide goals. There are security and fraud risks if the City cannot account for what it has and where it is.”

Most city departments rely on Austin’s Communications & Technology Management Department to meet their tech needs.

In a statement, a CTM spokesperson told KXAN, “Departments are required to track controllable assets valued at greater than $500 and capital assets valued at greater than $5,000 that have a usable life longer than one year. CTM keeps an inventory for items purchased and provided by CTM.”

Recommendations and response from city management

The Auditor’s Office recommends City Manager Spencer Cronk ensure technology oversight groups are established. City management agreed. The City Manager’s Office and the chief information officer are currently reviewing the state of the existing Information Technology governance structure.

Another recommendation from auditors is for the chief information officer to establish a stakeholder group, which would evaluate the city’s current approach to buying technology. City management agreed and plans to establish a stakeholder team by the end of 2021.

Auditors also recommended the chief information officer ensure the city keep complete, accurate and available information for decision makers, including information about planning, reviews and performance.

City of Austin doesn’t track technology it purchases, audit finds