By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
A Tribal Council work session was held on Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014 to discuss information technology and the future of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in the digital universe. Chairwoman Terri Henry opened the session announcing that there are five resolutions pending before the Tribe for consideration.
The purpose of the meeting was to gain a better understanding of the issues involved. Chairwoman Henry listed the following pieces of legislation: Ordinance 277 to rescind Cherokee Broadband Enterprise and make it a tribal program; Resolution 299 to create an EBCI information technology strategic working group; Ordinance 276 to amend Section 16C-10 of Cherokee Code to establish technology enhancement fund with provisions governing its use; a resolution in November to make IT resources available to the Big Y community; and Resolution 435 to create a Chief Information or Technology Officer and bring/create a standalone technology department/division for the tribe.
Principal Chief Michell Hicks commented that there are multiple systems in play that must be analyzed as to how they might be integrated and what the vision is for the structure and future of information technology resources for the entire Eastern Band community. He sees three categories of Information Technology-the government aspect, commercial side and infrastructure.
“We need to get a narrower focus on where we want go,” stated Chief Hicks. “I think we need a strategy moving forth. I think today starts the conversation. This is one of many opportunities for us to push this tribe ahead as it relates to technology.”
Chairwoman Henry concurred with Chief Hicks on a need for moving the effort in one direction. She then sought public input, specifically from those with expertise in information technology.
Lloyd Arneach, Tribal IT network administrator, read a letter from the Department, “We, the Tribal IT Department, would respectfully request that the Tribal Council withdraw resolutions pertaining to the IT working group, the $10 million technology enhancement fund and Broadband as a utility. We would also request that the executive order creating an IT steering committee be rescinded. This is in favor of promoting the resolution to create the CIO position that will then take on the responsibility of developing a plan to address these previous resolutions.”
Arneach acknowledged Chief Hicks’ comment with regard to focus and believed that creating the Chief Information Officer, or CIO, would provide a position to focus the efforts and have a responsible party to strategize the roll out of information technology as it relates to the tribe. Arneach expressed that the CIO would be in direct contact with the Executive Office.
Chief Hicks asked for clarification as to how this proposed position would relate to the existing partnership that the Tribe has with Balsam West, a wireless and information technology provider. Arneach suggested that the CIO might sit on the Balsam West board. Several members of Tribal IT department stepped to the podium to express support for the proposal read by Arneach.
Painttown Rep. Tommye Saunooke inquired what the cost of adding a CIO would be. Chief Hicks stated approximately $200,000.
Bob Long, from Tribal IT Department, stated that the vision for the CIO position was to recommend moving the current director of IT into the position to immediately begin strategic planning. According to Long, this would minimize the initial cost of implementing the CIO while quickly getting a person who understands the IT landscape in a position to create strategy and focus.
Wolfetown Rep. Bo Crowe, who proposed the legislation to create CIO position, concurred that the intent of the resolution was not to bring additional or outside persons in and that he feels that we already have someone that is capable of filling that role.
Jim Ingram, Trificient Technologies – contractor with the tribe to set up and operate Cherokee Broadband, recommended the implementation of a CIO. He indicated that a single point of contact and decision maker would help facilitate tactics, ensuring that the Tribe stays in compliance with regulations. Ingram indicated that there have been challenges in making Cherokee Broadband a self-sustaining entity. He also said that efforts to gain profitability include diversifying the products that Cherokee Broadband offers.
Chief Hicks offered that the Tribe needs further study on the structure with regards to CIO. The information technology piece of government and community is a critical part of many of the programs and enterprise future and growth. He stated that the five outstanding resolutions on the table represent parts of an overall strategy, but do not address the real need, which is an overall strategy for information technology.
Kim Peone, EBCI Deputy of Finance, gave a report on the financial position of current information technology efforts. She addressed the proposal to make Cherokee Broadband into a utility. She quoted that Broadband has had a net loss of $1.7 million. In FY2014 alone, the entity had a net loss of $410,000.
According to Peone, the Governmental Financial Officers Association supports CFO over governmental IT department for building business cases for technology. Peone stated that Cherokee Broadband is a “wholesaler” for Balsam West and that the Tribe’s relationship with Balsam West is a partnership.
In reference to the IT Department, the Tribe has provided the infrastructure, Peone said. “Right now, all we are looking at are efficiencies and effectiveness and doing it with a cost savings. That’s the bottom line.”
She stated that she hopes that the broadband ordinance is not rescinded. She feels that in order to serve the community and make information technology a high priority for the Tribe, it will need to be exempted from the traditional ranking system that is used for tribal capital investment projects.
Cherokee County – Snowbird Rep. Brandon Jones spoke to the need for the entire community to have the benefit of internet access and be a part of the advances in information technology even if it comes at a cost.
Big Cove Rep. Perry Shell spoke about ensuring that tribal entrepreneurs and students not miss out on opportunities because lack of access to network and technology. Chief Hicks agreed and added he felt that the Tribe should do so in the most cost effective manner.