The AME Group has answered more than 350 calls for assistance over the last three months at the Knox County Courthouse.

An aged and haphazard technology system has proved troublesome for AME to navigate since taking it on late last year, but the local tech company is making progress, Tim Trotter reported to the Knox County Commissioners Tuesday.

“We are making gradual improvements in terms of reliability and in service,” he said. “We're working on it, and it's getting better.”

County elected officials last month voted to move forward with nearly $250,000 in various equipment and infrastructure upgrades; that's after the commissioners last year voted to contract with The AME Group for annual services, paying $206,000 per year for continued maintenance.

So the county is in the process of getting a whole new technology footprint, complete with a proper backup system that will finally limit sometimes lengthy interruptions to county departments, as well as eight new servers, nearly 100 new computers and an updated wireless infrastructure.

Trotter told the commissioners Tuesday that the server had been delivered and The AME Group was busy preparing it. Laptops and new desktop computers, too, have been delivered and are being processed. And a new backup program is set to be delivered to the courthouse any day now.

“So we've got some big steps happening,” Trotter said. “And when it all goes in, these (call for assistance) numbers are going to change.”

Commission president Kellie Streeter was quick to point out that all of those 353 calls over the last three months are built in to the county's existing contract with The AME Group; they're not charged for each one, she said.

Regardless, everyone is excited for easier days with fewer computer troubles.

“And given that we anticipated you wouldn't even begin until June 1,” Streeter said referencing an earlier plan, “the fact that all this is occurring now is ...”

“Pretty good,” commissioner Tim Ellerman said finishing her thought.

Trotter said crews with The AME Group are now busy laying out a plan for the installation of the county's new equipment. They have “a really good plan” moving forward, Trotter assured the commissioners.

And next up, he said, will be in setting up a new phone system as the county looks to exit its contract with AT&T.

County officials, who enjoy a special government rate for phone service, thought their contract ended at the end of May. As it turns out, it lasts through next summer.

That said, there is no penalty for getting out now, and that's exactly what they plan to do, Streeter said, especially after a bill for nearly $700,000 (for one month) landed on her desk.

“Don't worry about this,” Trotter told them as he held up the bill and shook his head in confusion. “We'll take care of this.”

But it's not the first time the county has been served such a bill, Streeter explained.

Typically, the county's bill for monthly phone service — which it pays a month in advance — is about $2,500 — a far cry from the $689,000 invoice they received this month. Yet a similar bill showed up about this same time last year, as their contract rolled into another year.

They got that one cleared up with AT&T, and Streeter is confident, especially with The AME Group's help this time around, that the same will prove true this time.

Then, she said, they've got their eye on a new provider which will likely slice the usual monthly bill by more than half.

“So that's what we're going to do,” she said matter-of-factly.

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