With a draft report currently in hand, Clarke County government hopes to soon have a strategy for improving it costly, but ineffective software infrastructure. At Monday’s Joint Administrative Services meeting JAS Director Tom Judge told the group that he expects a final report in time to present at the committee’s next meeting on March 28th.
“Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) has been here and met with various focus groups and functional areas” Judge said. “They taken the data back with them and now are doing market research to identify products that meet our needs.”
GFOA has been contracted by Clarke County government to review the county’s overall software infrastructure and suggest approaches for possibly addressing multiple requirements through fewer software products. Feedback and cost estimates from the GFOA report could be used to develop budget expectations and a request for proposals should the county decide to move forward with upgrading its existing software infrastructure.
County leaders had hopes that the software recommendations would be completed in time for inclusion in the coming year’s budget but that outcome seems unlikely with budget finalization scheduled for next week.
“It doesn’t look like we will have the final recommendations in time for inclusion in this year’s budget” Judge said. “We still need to see the estimated RFP costs and phasing costs before they can be included in the upcoming fiscal year budget.”
To a large degree, GFOA’s mandate is to review the county’s software requirements then navigate the complex software market place to assess and recommend potential software approaches that can improve efficiency and productivity. According to county staff, Clarke County’s existing software infrastructure is both archaic and ineffective.
At Monday’s meeting Clarke County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael Murphy identified one problem area, website management, while County Administrator David Ash pointed to another software trouble spot, office automation.
“One area where software collaboration makes sense is in website management” Murphy told the Joint Administrative Services members. “The county is paying $7K for ongoing maintenance and we are paying $2K and our system is a dog. Maybe we can share the same software and save some money here.”
Murphy then described that recent changes to MicroSoft licensing practices could make certain county staff members eligible to use discounted education licenses for MicroSoft Office Suite (which includes industry standard word processing, spreadsheet and database software.)
“We may be able to purchase MicroSoft Office Suite very inexpensively” Murphy said.
According to Murphy, MicroSoft license coverage has been extended to include use by part-time employees that assist in the administration of the school system. At yesterday’s meeting, JAS members speculated as to whether education license use could be extended to staff functions in the county treasurer’s office who administer the school’s funds and the finance office where the school budget is developed.
However, the county’s office existing automation strategy may preclude taking advantage of favorable pricing from MicroSoft.
“Gordon wants to use OpenOffice” replied Tom Judge. “The question of using MicroSoft Office instead is something that Gordon would have to look at.”
Gordon Russell is Clarke County’s information technology director. OpenOffice is a “free” software tool that replicates the “look and feel” of the MicroSoft office interface and much of its functionality.
Judge’s comment sparked the attention of County Administrator David Ash who is ultimately responsible for managing the productivity and costs associated with county staff use of software tools.
“I’ve gotten to a point where we really need to look at what we are doing with OpenOffice” a frustrated Ash replied.
“Office automation isn’t part of what GFOA is looking at” Tom Judge replied.
“If we can do anything to use the school system’s purchasing power to help part-time county employees we’d like to do it” Dr. Murphy said.
Over the years Clarke County has spent nearly $404K in software costs. Annual maintenance for existing software applications is $177K.