Clarke Hears Staunton’s View on Possible ERP Procurement

Clarke County has taken another step towards a possible overhaul of its antiquated data management and government computer infrastructure. After encouraging discussions between Clarke’s Joint Administrative Services committee and the city of Staunton, Virginia JAS director Tom Judge may soon put forward a budget request that will allow the Board of Supervisors to make an up or down vote on moving forward on the systems solution.

Since last summer the county has been evaluating the technical and economic feasibility of upgrading and unifying its entire information management infrastructure through the possible procurement of sophisticated software often referred to as “enterprise resource planning” (ERP). If successfully implemented, an ERP system could reduce labor requirements by allowing information collected at one input point to be seamlessly shared by departments and processes throughout the county as well as improve the level of information available to managers and staff.

For example, information collected by the Commissioner of Revenue would be easily accessible by a building inspector when issuing a permit or a tax assessor when generating a tax bill. Currently, data entered by one government department is often reentered again in other departments. Additionally, county managers have expressed a lack of confidence in the county’s overall ability to produce actionable budgetary information. The county and school board’s current software and hardware systems are largely obsolete and will likely continue to pose challenges to worker efficiencies and contribute increased workloads for school and government employees.

While the potential benefits of ERP are excellent, the Clarke County Board of Supervisors will also need to consider the significant costs and risks before going forward. Not only are ERP systems costly – a county consultant has estimated that a county-wide implementation could cost over $1M dollar even before computer hardware replacement – the county would also be faced with complex decisions and challenges of whether to adapt the ERP software to meet its current business practices or to modify its business practices to conform with the software’s out-of-the-box capabilities.

On July 28th the county’s Joint Administrative Services committee, comprised of both county and school officials, Conducted a teleconference with the City of Staunton’s IT staff to hear how Staunton tackled issues similar to those of Clarke County’s with a successful ERP

Staunton representatives Mike Bowen and Cindy Snead spent nearly an hour-and-a-half responding to detailed questions from JAS members. Bowen and Snead said that Staunton ultimately selected an ERP solution called “Munis” which has been successfully implemented. Similar to Clarke County’s present situation, Staunton began the transition in 2002 from a “home-grown” system which no longer served its purpose, toward the more sophisticated ERP solution.

The Staunton representatives said that selection and transition process included both the city council and the school board and stressed the importance of cooperation between the elected bodies on a joint upgrade. Bowen and Snead said that a side benefit of the project has been the increased level of cooperation between the council and the school board which still endures.

According to School Board member Robina Bouffault, who was present during the discussions, each of the Staunton boards appointed members to a joint council constituted with an equal number of members from each group and with decision making powers. Bouffault said that she believed that the Staunton project had been successful, in part, because the team members were not required to go back to their councilor boards for final approval on decisions.

Bowen and Snead said that Staunton has worked closely with Munis who has provided extensive support and has also provided staff with a refresher course one year after the system was implemented.

Munis continues to provide Staunton with software updates and provides necessary staff training.

“Staunton has been very pleased with the overall implementation and results of their ERP system” Bouffault told the Clarke County School Board on Monday night.

According to Bouffault, JAS director Tom Judge will be reviewing ERP options and providers over the next three months. Based on Judge’s review, an ERP budget recommendation for a possible for FYl3 implementation could be presented to the Board of Supervisors sometime near the end of the 2011 calendar year.