Counting from Top to Bottom

Assessing Total Cost of Ownership for Public Computing and Technology
Medina, OH
Jim Haprian

Located in north-central Ohio, Medina County is home to nearly 200,000 people and the six branches of the Medina County District Library (MCDL). Jim Haprian, the Technology Manager at MCDL, began his career in libraries working as a janitor in 1992. Since then, he has worked as a Page, a Circulation Clerk, a Bookmobile Assistant, and a Technology Coordinator before moving to his current position in 2000.

A Little Perspective

Haprian is not shy about sharing his career path at the Medina County District Library. In fact, he credits his various ranks and roles at the library over the past fifteen years with giving him a unique and valuable perspective. “I’m really fortunate — and I think this has made me a whole lot better manager and a better tech person — [in] that I’ve worked in the other departments in the library,” he says. “There are a lot of folks out there who are just tech people, and I think it’s good to get an understanding of how [technology decisions] are going to really affect the folks in the circ department, or the reference department, too.”

Beyond a breadth of experience working in different capacities in the library, Haprian has expertise working with and developing new technology systems to improve how the libraries run their day-to-day operations. Having just completed a $42 million building project at all six branches of the Medina County District Library, during “which we basically rebuilt or built brand-new buildings at every one of our locations and purchased a new bookmobile,” he understands from the ground up how money is spent and how the cost of technology goes well beyond the sticker price.

The Nuts and Bolts of Long-Term Technology Planning

Planning long-range and for the broader needs of the libraries’ staff and customers, Haprian was able to have a guiding hand in all of the decisions regarding technology systems and infrastructure at all of the branches during the project. With more than 300 computers under his supervision at the various locations, he and his team developed the technology plan for the overall network, maintained the MCDL Web site, managed the audio-video systems, worked closely with the building facilities teams for security cameras and HVAC control, and coordinated the telephone systems throughout the branches.

While evaluating the effectiveness of MCDL’s systems from top to bottom, Haprian learned the full process for developing a successful technology infrastructure for libraries. “We got to work with our architects and planned all the technology for our new buildings, right down to the actual wiring and where the electrical sockets were going to be, and how many electrical sockets we needed.”

Total Cost of Ownership for Technology Infrastructure

Haprian took his responsibilities toward the $42 million taxpayer dollars seriously during the building project and has a studied philosophy on getting the most value for your money. “Total cost of ownership plays into how much staff time you’re really spending on a new technology,” Haprian explains. “I think a lot of times people try to use technology as the silver bullet to solve problems that maybe aren’t really technology problems.” He explains, “We recently opened a bunch of new branches and since then our circulation has gone through the roof. Our main branch was checking out over 100,000 items each month. Our circulation staff was having a really hard time keeping up with all of the patrons and they were getting buried by a backlog of fifty-plus crates of requested materials almost every,” Haprian says. “People suggested maybe we needed more self check machines to help handle the loads of patrons at the desk. We decided to look at how circulation staff were processing things and when their supervisors changed some of the procedures, it greatly improved the efficiency in the departments. So, while getting more self check machines might have helped the backup, it wouldn’t have been best solution to a process problem.”

Haprian believes that asking key questions will help determine the best solution, “What's the true cost of ownership when we’re doing these projects and these services, and making these changes? Are we actually solving the problem or are we just moving it? You also have to consider the sustainability. If we put together this great new program of video games in the library, who’s going to run the program, what’s the impact on staff, what happens when the equipment gets old? You have to do a basic cost benefit analysis.”

He continues, “I think too often in libraries we don’t look at things [from] more of a business perspective and I don’t think that’s always a good way to do stuff, because time is the taxpayers’ money and we want to be responsible with it. We always have to keep that in mind.”
When creating the libraries’ technology plans, Haprian takes into account the total costs associated with bringing in or updating technology. He gave an example of an experience that still shapes his thinking about the total cost of ownership and sustainability for future purchases:

A long time ago we bought a server. It wasn’t a home machine, but it didn’t have dual power supplies. The power supply died in it, and it happened to be our domain controller for our Windows network. We called [the manufacturer] and got transferred all over the place to all the various tech support departments and had a heck of a time finding a power supply. Meanwhile, we were down three or four days with no domain controller because we had bought a server that didn’t have redundant power supply. So how much productivity and work was lost because of that? That really kind of taught me. If something mission-critical really dies, we want to get it fixed as soon as possible. If something crashes, we’re not losing millions of dollars an hour, but we are losing staff time, and we’ve got to take that into account. Time is still money in a non-profit just like a business."

With that in mind, Haprian recommends the gold standard in warranties for mission-critical machines, like servers, and three-year warranties on their general workstations. “We try to get the support where you can get the next-day replacement parts or on-site service. I think it’s worth it because usually your servers are running your mission-critical things.”

Getting More Mileage Out of PCs

Haprian also had long-range plans when ordering new computers for the library. He purchased the new machines more than a year in advance to allow time for standardization before they’d go into full public use at the different branches. With good planning, the computers were more robust than what was needed to run their systems — but Haprian knew that newer technologies and future operating systems would require heartier computers and that they’d be prepared.

My thought on buying public machines is that you can spend as little money as possible and get kind of a low-powered machine and then replace or upgrade them sooner. Or you can spend a little more money and get ones that will hopefully last between three and five years,” Haprian explains.

After estimating the total cost of ownership for the different types of systems, he opted for the longer-range computers. “The machines we bought are quite a bit more robust than what we really need for public computing — and this is my philosophy — but I think you get more mileage out of them. The last batch of PCs that we bought was a few years back, and we got almost five years of usage out of them. They were just good enough [that] we really didn’t need to do too much to keep them updated. With taxpayers’ money, that’s what you want to do. You want to [get] the most usage out of the resources you have while keeping in mind that staff time spent keeping cheap machines running is a cost.” Haprian says.

He continues, “I think a lot of people don’t realize that when getting cheaper machines and non-business class machines, you [have to] figure in staff time of maintaining that, [and] you don't really end up getting a better deal, in my opinion. How much staff time is involved in maintaining them? It’s not cost-effective.”

Connecting Technology to the Community

Haprian has got a big job managing the full technology systems of six libraries and a Bookmobile, but he looks at his daily challenges of such an encompassing role at the library with optimism and a keen understanding of how all the nuts and bolts of his job connect with the communities throughout Medina County.

One of the things I really try to do is get to our branches, walk around, interact with the public, see how people are using our equipment, go to different functions outside of the library and try to be involved. I think too often in technology, we end up just kind of living in our tech worlds,” he comments.
“People are not idiots and we, as tech people, need to put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand where they’re coming from. We need to try to think about why they’re interacting with us the way they are. I think that’s the only way you can make those connections,” Haprian says.

Haprian has plans for the future technology needs of their staff and users, but first wants to make sure there’s a solid process to ensure the new infrastructure stays strong and cost-effective. “I’m working on coming up with a phased replacement system as part of my technology plan so that my business department can actually start budgeting that every two and a half or three years we’ll replace half the computers,” he says.

“We can be doing a lot of valuable things with long-range planning, [such as] developing new programs and services instead of just repairing stuff,” Haprian offers. “And there’s always something new. That’s the fun part.”

(Thanks to Tim at Fine Light Photography for permission to use his Medina County District Library photo.) 

-Becky Wiegand
Staff Writer, TechSoup