In the last two-and-a-half years, Kelly Evans has seen a world of change.
The Thomson-McDuffie Information Technology director has been busy since 2001 throwing out the old and bringing in the new, as McDuffie County has gone from using a fleet of antiquated, obsolete computer equipment to having one of the premier county-wide networking systems in all of Georgia.
But it wasn't easy. Not even close.
"We basically had to just start from scratch, as scary as that sounds. ... It was gut wrenching," she said of the massive overhaul. "For everyone in the county it was a massive change from what they were used to. It was a huge learning curve which they've done really well with. Every single user in the county and city, their desktop and software applications changed during this process. It got down into the very core of what they were doing."
The transition was made to a wide-area network, which allowed workers to seamlessly track, store and share information. Before, if data was to be shared, it had to be put on a floppy disk and copied onto another computer.
"It put everyone on the same network talking in the same language in the same kind of way," said Mrs. Evans.
Things were so bad in 2001 that all 125 systems were running Unix, a ten-year-old operating system and accessing the internet using painfully slow dial-up modems.
"We were in the same place we were in 1991," said Mrs. Evans. "It was time to do the jump, which every business has to make that decision when they're ready to do it. And it was time for us to do it."
But the upgrade has not come without a steep price tag. Since 2001, McDuffie County, with the help of the city of Thomson, has shelled out around $125,000 to pay for the upgrade. The budget for the IT department in 2004 will be $291,000, the majority of which will be spent to purchase software licensing and around 30 new desktop computers.
But for McDuffie County to continue its technological push forward, costs will continue to be high until all of the older equipment has been phased out.
The benefits of having a county and city fully integrated with state-of-the-art technology is already paying dividends, most notably with a Geographic Information System, which allows county and city officials to manipulate mapping data almost effortlessly.
"Our new GIS system that that we've put in has really been a help with these water and sewer projects," said County Commission Chairman Charlie Newton. "We can do things so much quicker, and that saves us a tremendous amount of effort."
Mrs. Evans said that technology has advanced to the point where EMS operators can find routes for ambulances during emergency situations all the way down to five foot increments, dramatically cutting response times.
In the future, she also said that police officers will be able to look up tag numbers, social security numbers, perform criminal background checks and more, right from their patrol cars.
And while she said that more needs to be done to get McDuffie County firing on all cylinders, Mrs. Evans said that much progress has been made already.
"It's been a huge joint venture on both the city and the county to get this updated and get the software updated to go forward. We've gone from being way behind compared to other counties to being on the cutting edge," she said.