Aurora, Ill., Writes Tech Plan With Praise from Kansas City

BY STEVE LORD, THE BEACON-NEWS / MARCH 1, 2019 Aurora, Ill., Writes Tech Plan With Praise from Kansas City

Aurora Illinois Image.jpg

During the presentation of the city of Aurora, Ill.'s new technology plan, the mayor read a letter from Kansas City Chief Innovation Officer Bob Bennett praising the plan for looking forward.

(TNS) — The city of Aurora, Ill., presented its technology plan this week, a blueprint for the future almost a year in the making.

“Technology is the common denominator for growth in the city of Aurora,” said Michael Pegues, Aurora’s CIO, in presenting the plan before a large City Council crowd. “It’s time for the city of Aurora to get fired up, excited about our potential and the need to do this now, because as we all know, technology doesn’t wait for anyone.”

The City Council approved a $90,000 contract in April 2018 for Crow Horwath to put together the plan. Participating in its development were Gartner, OnLight Aurora, Bureau Gravity and NTI Fiber Optics, as well as a host of city employees.

Pegues said with what Aurora has already done, items the plan suggests makes Aurora “positioned” to lead in the technology wave sweeping across government.

“Let’s make sure we don’t miss it,” he said.

Ald. Richard Mervine, 8th Ward, noted that the “key” is to “make sure it doesn’t stay in a drawer somewhere.”

“We need to take the initiative that other cities haven’t,” he said.

“I can guarantee you …” Pegues said in answer, “… we won’t let it collect dust.”

The city got an endorsement for its plan from another city known as one of the country’s leaders in municipal smart technology, Kansas City, Mo. Bob Bennett, Kansas City’s chief innovation officer, after looking at the city’s plan, sent a letter to Aurora Mayor Richard Irvin, which the mayor read during the presentation.

Irvin and Pegues have visited Kansas City and have said they are patterning Aurora’s smart city moves after the town.

“I think you’ve discovered a method to create the smartest city in the country,” Bennett said in his letter to Irvin.

One of the first steps toward implementation will be formation of a Smart City Advisory Committee. Pegues said the size and shape of the committee would be developed soon, with appointments to it coming shortly afterward.

Another early step is an initiative the Information Technology Department would do with the city’s Economic Development Department called the “1,000 Jobs Initiative Matrix.” It ties together the recent downtown housing study done for the Economic Development Department with the technology plan, said David Dibo, Aurora’s Economic Development director.

The study suggested the city can absorb as many as 1,260 new housing units downtown during the next five years, many of them technology-based. Dibo said the study indicated the housing would attract groups known as knowledge workers, new power couples, cosmopolitan elites, fast-track professionals and small-city singles.

They would be looking for jobs in high tech-related fields, Dibo said.

“We have the ability to support these businesses in the city,” he said. “We in Economic Development are trying to martial these resources.”

The city has already made some moves toward its Smart City objectives. The city has deployed and launched the police and fire computer-aided dispatch system, as well as Next Request, a web-based platform to manage, track and streamline all Freedom of Information Act requests.

The city recently announced it has migrated the on-premise Public Administration Financial System to CentralSquare, which is cloud-based.

Some of the key items the plan mentions include:

  • A five-year plan to improve ways the city uses data analytics to make decisions.

  • A three- to five-year plan to implement things like an online business registration portal.

  • Online bill payment.

  • A public facing Freedom of Information Act and public record request portal.

  • Human Resources and Division of Finance system upgrades, including purchasing, time and attendance payroll and an online benefits enrollment portal.

  • Better asset management to better track assets and vendors.

  • Fiber optimization, in collaboration with OnLight Aurora, to provide access to a metro Ethernet network and the Internet. Also use the fiber’s revenue-generating potential with connectivity benefits to local business, residents and visitors.

Mervine called it “interesting” that one of the concepts in the plan is taking advantage of the fiber the city has available.

“We do have technological advantages over other cities,” he said.

Ald. Michael Saville, 6th Ward, said the city should do “anything we can do to position Aurora as a leader” in technology.

“This is the future after all,” he said.

©2019 The Beacon-News (Aurora, Ill.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Aurora Council Approves Fiber Connection to Naperville


It took more than two months, several meetings and lots of discussion, but the Aurora City Council has approved spending money to extend the fiber optic cable across Diehl Road to hook up with Naperville.

In a unanimous vote, aldermen recently approved a $178,137 contract with NTI National Technologies, of West Chicago, to extend the city’s fiber optic cable from the southwest side of Diehl Road, at Eola Road, to the southeast side.

Aurora’s Information Technology officials have been pushing for the connection as a public safety measure, because Naperville and Aurora share emergency communications.

City officials have said the connection with Naperville would provide a backup to the one connection the two have elsewhere. That redundancy is important in case the system goes down at the one connection, which has happened on several occasions, they said.

That argument is what eventually convinced aldermen who had questioned if the move was more of an economic development move, normally handled by the city’s non-profit partner, OnLight Aurora, which administers the fiber optic network through an agreement with the city.

Ald. Richard Mervine, 8th Ward, said before the recent vote that while he had questions during discussions of the contract because he “felt some of the objectives were fluid all along,” he had his questions answered and he agreed the connection was “necessary.”

Ald. Robert O’Connor, at large, said he too had his questions answered about the necessity of the redundant connection.

“We simply had some issues we wanted to talk about,” he said. “We’re going to pursue some candid conversations about what to do to better relate the work of OnLight and the city.”

Consideration of the contract had languished in council committees for two months with aldermen and city staff debating if the proposal is a simple capital budget expenditure that has public safety implications, or if it's something that breaks with the tradition of how the city and OnLight Aurora have traditionally extended fiber.

In addition to the public safety aspect, extending the fiber has a secondary benefit for Aurora in that it makes it possible for businesses on the east side of Eola Road to hook-up to the fiber network.

Those kind of hook-ups — to other government agencies, education facilities or private business — have traditionally been done by OnLight Aurora and paid for by the entities looking to hook up. Aldermen had been asking if the city was paying to extend fiber to the businesses, something businesses have traditionally paid for.

Right now, Scientel Solutions Inc. is the main business that would want to hook on to the city's fiber on the east side of Eola Road. But there are three or four lots at the southwest corner of the intersection that could get access to the fiber if it crosses Eola Road, and OnLight Aurora reportedly has non-disclosure agreements with some companies to hook-on there if the fiber is extended.

The discussion over the extension has led to other debate about the relationship between OnLight Aurora and the city, which has been spelled out in several general service agreements between the two.

Both sides have said that agreement needs to be evaluated and likely updated.

“I think we need to clean up how we do this in the future,” said Mervine.

Some aldermen also considered another long-awaited fiber extension to the commercial suites in the River Street Plaza along South River Street, south of Benton Street.

Aldermen on the Finance Committee recommended extending the fiber to River Street using two ComEd poles at Cross Street.

The City Council originally approved the connection to River Street last year when it was thought the extension would be underground across River Street. OnLight Aurora has traditionally buried all its fiber optic cable.

But officials said it would be difficult — almost impossible — to bury the connection because of a high pressure gas line that runs along River Street. It would be much cheaper to use existing ComEd utility poles.

So the connection was delayed while the city negotiated pole fees with ComEd. According to the deal the Finance Committee recommended, the city would pay ComEd an annual fee of $28.94 a pole, or $57.88 total. The base fee would increase 3 percent a year.

Mike Baker, a network engineer for Aurora, said if the city had tried to bypass the high pressure gas line, it would have cost somewhere in the area of $120,000.

“It was more expensive to go under than over,” Baker said.

The full City Council still has to approve the deal, and officials estimated they could have the connection done by mid-March.

Aurora panel delays fiber optic connection to Naperville

Written by Steve Lord at Beacon News Jan. 9, 2019 Aurora panel delays fiber optic connection to Naperville

The southeast corner of Diehl and Eola roads in Aurora includes lots that could become more prime for development with a fiber optic connection. (Steve Lord / The Beacon-News)

The southeast corner of Diehl and Eola roads in Aurora includes lots that could become more prime for development with a fiber optic connection. (Steve Lord / The Beacon-News)

An Aurora City Council committee this week further delayed consideration of a fiber optic connection to Naperville.

Aldermen on the Finance Committee are looking at a plan to spend $178,137 to push the city's fiber optic line from the southwest side of Diehl and Eola roads to the southeast side.

Aurora information technology officials want the connection so they can link up with Naperville's fiber optic system. Aurora already has a connection to Naperville's system — important because the two cities share emergency communication systems — but wants a second, redundant one as a backup.

City officials have been considering the issue since last November, with aldermen questioning if the primary motive for the connection is the secondary connection to Naperville, or economic development of four lots at the southeast corner of the intersection.

While aldermen are fine with providing fiber optic to the four lots — making them prime for economic development — they have said the question of the motive for the extension is a question of who pays for it.

Aldermen have said that adding fiber for economic development reasons is the purview of OnLight Aurora, the city’s not-for-profit corporation that handles the city’s fiber optic network. In that case, companies seeking the connection should pay for the hookups, not the city, aldermen have said.

Ald. Robert O'Connor (City of Aurora)

“Your emphasis has been the backup for Naperville, but it brings the development in,” said Ald. Robert O’Connor, at large, this week to economic development and technology officials. “Wouldn’t this have been the purview of OnLight Aurora?”

City technology officials, as well as representatives from OnLight Aurora, along with the city’s economic development officials, appeared before the Finance Committee this week to provide more information and answer questions.

But O’Connor and other members of the Finance Committee — Ald. Ted Mesiacos, 3rd Ward, and Ed Bugg, 9th Ward — held over any recommendation to the Feb. 9 Finance Committee meeting, seeking yet further information.

Technology officials have insisted the project is a city of Aurora project, to extend the spine of the fiber network to meet up with Naperville.

Officials presented information showing that connections elsewhere to Naperville would be far more expensive, in the $400,000 to $500,000 range. They also said that outages in November and December, one for 10 hours and another for a matter of days, compromised the connection between the Aurora and Naperville public safety communications systems. That’s why the redundancy connection is needed, technology officials said.

“This wasn’t an OnLight Aurora project, it was a city of Aurora project,” said Keith Gerald, OnLight Aurora executive director.

Gerald admitted the project does have an ancillary economic development benefit if those corner lots at Diehl and Eola are connected. He said if that happens, OnLight Aurora would step in and any companies locating at the intersection would pay to connect to the fiber system.

“Yes, there’s opportunities if we build that corner,” Gerald said.

Mike Baker, a network engineer for Aurora, said as part of the buildout for the connection to Aurora, the city would include conduit for the eventual hookups by businesses to OnLight. But he said part of the reason to include that is there are so many connections underneath that intersection, that there is not much more room left.

“If we go in, no one else will come,” Gerald said. “There will be no more room.”

OnLight Aurora is a not-for-profit organization tasked with growing the city’s fiber optic network to businesses, education facilities and government buildings. It is related to the city through a master services agreement.

The reason for so many connections at Diehl and Eola roads on the southwest corner is nearby CyrusOne, which handles and stores data for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, as well as nine other foreign exchanges.

Companies involved in the trading business want to be located as close as possible to that information.

After the Finance Committee delayed any recommendation another month, Michael Pegues, Aurora’s chief information officer, released a statement criticizing the delay.

“The Finance Committee’s reluctance to approve (the resolution), without reasonable justification, negatively impacts public safety, city operations and economic growth in the city of Aurora,” he said.

Aurora could do more than $1 million in tech upgrades in 2019

Written by Steve Lord at Beacon News Dec. 28, 2018 Aurora could do more than $1 million in tech upgrades in 2019

A list of four projects totaling $1.18 million was included in the city’s capital improvement program as part of the recently concluded 2019 budget process.

Three of the projects, totaling just under $1 million, are considered high priority.

Ald. Robert O’Connor, at large, the finance committee chairman, said the list was included because officials wanted to know how many tech-related projects were coming up, and what they would cost.

He stressed that although they are in the capital improvement plan, each project must come before the City Council to be individually approved. They all might not be done in 2019.

“All of them have to come through as a specific project,” he said.

One of them, a $300,000 project to install a “redundant fiber backbone” between the Naperville and Aurora fiber systems, has already been before the council and is scheduled to go before the finance committee again on Jan. 8.

The link would be on the east side of Eola Road, just past the intersection with Diehl Road, near the water tower along the Illinois Prairie Path.

The intersection is a busy one, both for vehicle traffic and for the information super-highway underneath, with 23 wires under the road there. The city is looking for the link as a backup to one Aurora and Naperville already have because they share public safety systems.

The city also would include some piping underground that could eventually help OnLight Aurora, the city’s nonprofit organization that has developed a fiber optic network to service local businesses, educational facilities and governmental bodies, according to plans for the project.

OnLight Aurora could eventually service several business on the east side of Eola Road, including the Scientel Solutions Inc. national headquarters planned along Eola, south of Diehl. The businesses would pay for the hookups to OnLight, officials have said.

The intersection is a hotbed of tech activity in large part because CyrusOne, a date storage company, has a large facility that just expanded on the southwest corner of Eola and Diehl. CyrusOne holds the data for the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, as well as several foreign exchanges.

The project is considered a high priority, and is estimated to cost about $300,000, according to city officials.

Two other projects considered high priorities are the deployment of fiber from the city’s Barnes Road Water Tower to the Aurora Airport in Sugar Grove and the replacement of more than 10-year-old switch equipment.

The city has been discussing fiber to the Aurora Airport for its video surveillance systems for a while. But the cost of burying the fiber all that way — about five miles — is high, according to city data.

It would cost about half that amount — or an estimated $480,000 — to use ComEd power poles for the fiber, and earlier this year, the city struck a deal with the company to use the poles. It would be a bit controversial with some because it’s the first time OnLight Aurora would use poles for the fiber, instead of burying it, city data indicates.

But according to the city’s technology officials in their notes on the project, “a hybrid design of aerial and terrestrial fiber” is a “well established practice in the telecom industry.”

The switch replacements are estimated at about $200,000, according to information on the proposed project.

A fourth project, considered a medium priority, is refreshing an optical network server. That is estimated at about $200,000, according to city data.