Clarke County’s Joint Administrative Services committee met yesterday to wrestling with the county’s data processing challenges. Software access and complexity issues have eroded the confidence of some county managers in the reliability of data prompting many to maintain paper records rather than rely on enterprise resource planning software available from county servers.
“A lot of people don’t trust our system to be right” County Administrator David Ash told OpenRDA president Dave Davis at the meeting. “A lot of people are keeping their own individual balances. That’s expensive because we’re still managing our financial information on a paper basis.”
Davis’s Canton, Georgia firm publishes OpenRDA, marketed as is the only open source software company in the fund accounting business. OpenRDA offers its OpenXpert fund accounting software for free to government agencies opting instead to earn its income by providing data conversion, product enhancements, and technical support.
Clarke County government has long been a client of OpenRDA but has grown increasingly frustrated with issues related to the systems user interface and complexity. Upon investigation of the problems being voiced by staff, Clarke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy learned that OpenRDA had a new version of its software available.
County staff saw a demonstration of the new software last Thursday in preparation for Davis’s visit to Clarke County on Monday.
According to Davis, OpenRDA’s latest software release has the same functionality but with an improved software interface.
“The new version is simpler and has an easier way to navigate using more drop down menus” OpenRDA’s Davis said. “It gets you to where you want to go easier without a whole lot of underlying change.”
Enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is an industry term used to describe a broad set of software application tools that help an organization manage the important parts of its business including finance and human resources. Davis told the Joint Administrative Services committee that his software competes favorably with systems costing $150K – $500K.
“Software vendors like SAP, PeopleSoft and Oracle are very expensive and you need to be willing to spend $500K or more or they won’t talk to you” Davis told the committee members. “OpenRDA is more of a regional vendor in terms of size and cost but our products are more mid to upper tier in terms of performance.”
Clarke County’s ERP software implementation has been a long and tedious process by most accounts. The county has struggled for years with both computer and telecommunications infrastructure challenges as well as software issues.
“Until now a lot of the dlay has been bandwidth and transport layer challenges” Said Joint Administrative Services Director Tom Judge. “We’ve been ready to go with implementing a software solution for four to five years but we didn’t have the bandwidth to support it.”
According to Gordon Russell, Clarke County’s Information Technology director, now that proper bandwidth is available throughout most of the county government buildings the primary challenge with Open RDA is the complexity of installing and maintaining the software.
“Any given user is tedious to set-up” Russell said. “Adding a user on the network requires a lot of setup time.” Much of the effort involves establishing user permissions and selecting the proper screens based on an employee’s requirements.
“If you have to wade through so many screens just to approve a purchase order then a paper system may be a better way to do it” said David Ash.
OpenRDA’s Davis assured Ash and the other members of the committee, Tom Judge, Robina Bouffault, Dr. Murphy Supervisor Chairman Michael Hobert, that his firm’s new software release will make the user interface both easier and more efficient. Davis offered to combine delivery of the new software version with a selection of professional services designed to make sure that Clarke County’s specific software problems are addressed through a thorough review of its business processes.
Davis offered the county a price of $38,750 to cover implementation and project management for five workstations. Davis quoted an additional fee of $10 – $30K for data conversion services. Maintenance for the system was estimated at $16K per year.
Rather than accepting Davis’s offer, Board of Supervisor’s Chairman Michael Hobert opened the discussion to other options.
CCPS Technology Director David Baggett expressed reservations about the relative cost of moving forward with OpenRDA without examining other options.
“I’ve listened to some pretty large numbers here” Baggett said. “Given the cost it would be just as easy to look at an entirely new system. By the time you add up the training and business analysis it gets pretty expensive.”
Chairman Hobert followed Baggett’s line of reasoning questioning Davis on whether the county’s long standing relationship with OpenRDA might provide an incentive for the firm to provide a more detailed analysis that would better demonstrate the county’s requirements.
“We’ve been a client of yours for twenty years” Hobert said. “Isn’t it reasonable under the circumstances for you provide a professional team to evaluate what our priority needs are?”
Davis appeared receptive to Hobert’s suggestion.
“We’d love to have Clarke County have a fully integrated system here with our software as the foundation” Davis said.
Davis committed to give Hobert’s suggestion further consideration and plans to respond after his return to Canton.