Staying ahead of the curve on protecting the town’s IT infrastructure and best practices should continue to be a top priority for the Leesburg Town Council, according to the town’s Technology & Communications Commission.
The panel presented its annual report to the council at its Monday work session.
Commission Chairman Peter Hill harkened back to the IT strategic plan developed in partnership with town staff, commissioners and an outside consultant and presented to the council in 2019. Back then, a top priority for the town was to become independent from the county government’s network. Loudoun County had imposed a deadline of June 30, 2022, for that to happen, but Leesburg achieved that goal before the end of 2020.
The strategic plan identified both strengths and vulnerabilities of the town’s IT operations, and in particular pointed to shoring up staffing and an increased budget to support IT needs as priorities. Hill said as a result the town was much better positioned to address the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic when lockdown began in the spring of 2020. That included teleworking support, remote meetings, and remote IT activity.
Going forward, the commission is recommending that the town accelerate some of its projects that relate to cybersecurity.
“Cybersecurity is an area of unfortunately dramatic need that continues to grow even though the town is significantly better positioned for cybersecurity than it was years ago,” Hill said.
A phone system migration to a cloud-based platform will help in addressing the town’s cybersecurity needs, he added. This will likely increase the operational cost to the town, but will increase functionality significantly, Hill said.
“The phone system today is hardware owned by the town and managed by the town. It doesn’t have the kind of redundancy you really need to have out of a phone system,” he said.
Another “hidden solution” of moving to a cloud-based system, Hill said, was that the vendor provides the cybersecurity for those applications.
Hill also cited the need to focus on a digital Town Hall initiative, with digital signage for certain town departments, and also integrating in the use of e-signatures for automating workflow and business processes.
The addition of a junior help desk technician to free up senior staff also was identified as a priority.
Council members applauded the commission for its work the past few years to keep the town ahead of the curve, especially ahead of cybersecurity threats. Mayor Kelly Burk in particular credited the commission’s legwork with helping the town navigate the pandemic.
“This commission has truly made a huge impact on the town,” she said. “You helped us be ready for COVID before we even anticipated that we were going to need to be ready for COVID. I think it really helped us get through that terrible first year.”
The initiatives and projects identified by the commission expect to be a topic of conversation during the council’s upcoming fiscal year 2023 budget deliberations. Town Manager Kaj Dentler is expected to present his proposed budget to the council Feb. 8.