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Information Technology as we know it had its beginning in the 1940’s. The information needs of science, engineering, the military, and logistical management during World War II led to the development of early automated search methods. When the digital computer made its appearance after the war, information could be stored on tape and other digital media. The development of controlled vocabularies and Boolean search techniques made it possible to write search engine programs. These could efficiently search through vast collections of online documents to find a small piece of information that was needed for a particular purpose.
In 1963, this need for information prompted the City of Atlanta to purchase its first computer. Historically, this was the beginning of Information Technology and the “Department of Data Processing”. During that period, Data Processing emerged under the auspices of the Finance Department.
At that time, the first computer, an IBM 1401, was installed to provide a billing system for water and payroll services. A short time later, business license and planning services were computerized. The 1401 computer had 8,000 bytes of internal memory. During this era, memory was called “core”.
The 1401 computer had four tape units, a 600 LPM printer and a card reader/punch as its peripheral equipment. The efficiency of this early model was limited and could only process one batch job at a time. Data was entered through keypunch cards. The programming language was Autocoder.
The early evolution of the IT department was a new paradigm of nomadic computing and communications. The lack of data storage was a tremendous problem. Punch cards had a limited capacity for storing information and as time progressed, space was eventually depleted. In 1965, just as the punch cards were reaching their maximum potential, they were replaced by IBM’s first general-purpose computer. Many of the data storage techniques pioneered by the IT department have been adopted by other City agencies for multiple purposes.
The Data Processing Department was divided into three divisions: Computer Operations, Programming and Systems. Personnel was organized into two teams. Staff consisted of a Data Processing Manager, one Assistant Manager, five Programmers, three Computer Operators, one keypunch Supervisor and sixteen Keypunch Operators.
In 1975, the department expanded and changed its name to the “Office of Management Systems”. A decade later (1985), BMIS, the “Bureau of Management Information Systems” was created. In spite of the names changing, the IT department continued to grow and develop.
Implementation of the Internet was established in 1988. It was designed before LANs existed, but has accommodated the new network technology. Later that same year, electronic mail was introduced across several City departments. The use of different systems for an interconnection between mail systems demonstrated the limited utility of broad based electronic communications between employees.
In 2003, a new mission and vision was introduced, changing BMIS into the “Department of Information Technology” (DIT). Thus, throughout four decades of technology, we have seen a steady evolution of organizational structures designed to support and facilitate an increasing number of City users. The need for future growth, stakeholder expectations and the integration of functional areas require working collaboratively to attain recognition as an innovative, value-driven, customer-focused, effective IT services provider.
The most pressing question for the future of DIT is not how the technology will change, but how the process of change and evolution itself will be managed. With the success of the organization has come a proliferation of stakeholders. At the same time, the City struggles to find the economic rationale for the large investment needed for future growth. If progress is slow, it is not because we lack technology, vision or motivation. It will be due to a deficiency of resources needed to provide business value and to enable a timely, cost-effective, high quality delivery of City services.