COMMENTARY: I.T., please.

by Aug 2, 2019OPINIONS





In the past several days, we’ve been experiencing several interruptions owing to a lack of network connectivity at the office. The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians (EBCI) is set up on a secure network that provides not only our connection to other computer users in the tribal government but also to the outside world. When the network connection goes out on the computer, you lose phone service; no email, no phone calls, no payment system, no communications access. The best you can do is yell to your coworker in the next office. 

Most tribal office jobs are dependent on having the network up and running. “Paperwork” for contracts, payments/receipts of funds, and other typical office communication requires immediate, ready access to the network. If you want to kick productivity in the shins, provide sporadic internet access to your end-users. 

When I have staff working on reporting or document processing, then the network goes down, you might as well call siesta time in the office. In some cases, network shutdowns equal coffee or smoke breaks. And, then you must add in the time it takes for the employees to regain focus and start up again. 

The causes of network outages may be wide and varied. As big and complex as the tribal network is, one must assume that there will be an isolated outage or two. Our system has hardware that is in different stages of degradation. I know in my workgroup that some computers are three-plus years old, so it may be time for those to be put out to pasture. 

Honestly, information technology is not my area of expertise. But, I certainly am a user of our network and my network at home. I don’t have to deal with servers, switches and such at home, which makes things lots simpler there. I do know that aging equipment may last a long time past their technologic relevance. Smaller, better, more efficient software and hardware are coming out much faster than the material is wearing out. As the newer versions come out, your equipment may lose its compatibility with other elements of the same network and networks with which our system must communicate. So, lots of factors are involved when determining when to replace, upgrade, or update hardware and software in a system. 

The folks in the Tribal I.T. department work hard at keeping the system functioning. They are responsive and courteous when addressing an issue or issues involving the tribal network. Those who come to aid and repair are those who bear the brunt of the end user’s frustration at a network interruption or computer crash. I.T. Technicians are some of the most underappreciated folks in the job force, and they are some of the most important.

As we have heard in Tribal Council, Information Technology programs are an issue for both inside the tribal network and out in the community. The need for reliable, consistent data service is critical for the entire Qualla Boundary. As mentioned earlier, productivity and economy in today’s marketplace will rise or fall on its electronic connectivity. In the community, it impacts everything from the delivery of services of convenience and critical need. 

As I write this piece, I glance behind me to look at the television hooked to Cherokee Cablevision. I have the set programmed to Channel 28. Since Tuesday (it is now Friday), the screen has been, for the most part, a black screen. For some reason, the live sessions of Tribal Council did air on 28, but no other programming is being fed through the cable. Channel 28 is the Tribe’s information channel, providing informative programming, including reruns of the candidate debates that we hope will help educate the voting public. There are roughly 3,000 connections through Cherokee Cablevision, including internet, households, and businesses like hotels. Along the serviceable area of Cablevision, approximately 25 percent of the households use Cablevision. In those households and hotels that have access to Cherokee cable, none have seen any of the informational programming that usually runs on Channel 28; just a dark screen for the past three days and no foreseeable resolution has been offered. Over 700 of those connections to Cablevision are internet connections, so those homes cannot even access the videos of any of the sessions EBCI Communications archives online. When inquiring why Channel 28 is down, the answers are vague but point to faulty network conditions. 

In modern communities, information technology is the key to excellent community service, economic progress, and diversification. Economies now travel at the speed of light through fiber-optic connections or even more sophisticated electronic corridors. We cannot entice any significant growth in community services or economic partners to the Boundary until we create the Information Technology infrastructure conducive to that growth. 

Do we want bigger and better businesses on the Boundary? Then we must invest in Information Technology. What is a critical part of providing human services like Public Health and Human Services, Cherokee Central Schools, Language Learning, Cherokee Indian Hospital, Tribal Emergency Services, Cherokee Courts, and Cherokee Police Department? Information Technology. These days, communities rise and fall with the attention they place and resources they put toward Information Technology. 

We owe it to ourselves, as a community, to insist on state-of-the-art Information Technology infrastructure for the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. We must provide those who are charged with developing and maintaining that infrastructure with the tools and training to provide it.