County Selects Consultant to Navigate Software Solution

Wednesday’s Clarke County Joint Administrative Services committee met on Wednesday and has taken a preliminary step toward addressing the county’s automation problems. Unfortunately, the consultant selected at the session says that the solution that the county wants isn’t available in today’s software marketplace.

Clarke County, Virginia

Joint Administrative Services Director Tom Judge told committee that he had spoken to a number of software consultants including Clarke County’s incumbent financial management provider RDA Systems who delivered its long-awaited technology findings the day before the meeting.

Judge described a wide range of responses and costs from the vendors that he spoke with ranging from a pro-bono three day consulting assessment from Maximus, Inc. of Reston, Virginia to the selected vendor’s, Government Finance Officers Association of Chicago Illinois, proposal with a price tag that will range between $24K to $58K.

Judge said that he also spoke to two internationally recognized consulting firms, Gartner Group and Forrester Reseach as well as Carahsoft, Input, Agilex who Judge characterized as providing services primarily to Federal government clients.

Clarke County’s long-time goal has been to integrate software and data platforms that can provide both county staff and Clarke County Public Schools with modern tools that support procurement, budget management and customer support. However, county officials say that Clarke’s current data systems are so poorly integrated that staff members keep independent desktop records rather than attempt to navigate or depend on the existing systems.

The JAS committee’s selection of GFOA is intended to enlist the help of an industry expert to gather information about Clarke County’s requirements so that an informed decision can be made on how to best solve the county’s data management challenges. A likely next step could be to use the findings to develop a request-for-proposal (RFP) to upgrade the county’s software

Although Judge said the Maximus proposal was offered with no additional requirements or commitment should the county elect to engage a different vendor once the three day engage was completed, county information technology director Gordon Russell and CCPS information technology director David Baggett, who also attended the meeting, were reluctant to endorse the no-cost proposal despite support in favor of Maximus from school board chairman Robina Bouffalut.

Undeterred, Bouffault later said that she felt the need to move the process forward and made the motion to select GFOA for an initial three phase project to include project planning, business operations analysis and business case development.

Although GFOA was unanimously selected by the committee, the firm says that Clarke County’s goals of a unified software and data platform are admirable but not currently achievable with off-the-shelf software.

“While probably meeting the immediate transactional needs of a user or user group, this [software] environment creates multiple sources for the same data, repetitive data entry tasks, and inconsistent information. Ultimately, with the same data in multiple places, there is no “single version of the truth”, and significant amounts of time can be spent verifying information” said GFOA executive Dave Melbye in a December 9th letter to JAS Director Tom Judge.

“The County, to its credit, has recognized these ‘issues and is seeking to investigate  enterprise solutions that provide much needed data integration. In addition to integrated  operational data around financial, procurement, budgeting and payroll applications, the  County would like to pursue integrated GIS, land use planning, and potentially inspection  and permitting applications. Unfortunately, the marketplace has not yet caught up to the vision of integrating those types of functions” Melbye cautioned.

Melbye said that GFOA would “identify the current state of technology and processes and their ability to support that vision now and into the future; identify the alternatives to bridging those gaps; and build a compelling business case for the selected alternative.”

However, despite GFOA’s consulting fee, Melbye warned of the possibility that the “do nothing” option may be the final recommendation.

“It is entirely possible that the best alternative is to continue on the present course, or wait  for the marketplace to develop more options. This “status quo” option (sometimes called  the “do nothing” option), must also be included in the analysis.”

GFOA’s estimated costs for providing its consulting services are:

Project Phase Estimated GFOA Hours Estimated Professional Fee Range
Phase I – Project and Organizational Planning 8 to 16 hours $1,800 – $3,600
Phase II – Business Operations Analysis 60 to 120 hours $13,500 – $27,000
Phase III – Business Case Development 40 to 120 hours $9,000 – $27,000
Total 108 hours to 256 hours $24,300 to $57,600