Large Price Tag May Accompany County Software Upgrade

Yesterday’s Joint Administrative Services team continued to evaluate how best to proceed on modernizing and integrating Clarke County’s enterprise management software tools. If the experience of other municipalities is any indicator, eventual costs for software could top $250K and conversion of data to the new platform could add another $450K. But before any decision is made on whether to move forward county staff has been asked to deliver a preliminary outline on how best to proceed.

Joint Administrative Services director Tom Judge reminded the committee, comprised of both Clarke County and Clarke County Public Schools officials, that the initial discussion related to systems integration started over difficulties extending of extending the county’s financial management software to different departments. “From there the discussion led to considering integration of other various county systems” Judge said.

That result of the initial discussions, which commenced earlier in the summer, was to invite OpenRDA president Dave Davis to visit Berryville and speak directly to some of the problems and frustrations that county and school staff were experiencing with his firm’s software. Davis’s Canton, Georgia firm publishes OpenRDA, marketed as 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.

Although Davis pledged to Clarke County Board of Supervisor’s chairman Michael Hobert to look into Clarke County’s concerns, progress has been slow until now. At today’s meeting JAS director Judge said that OpenRDA’s research and development director will be visiting Clarke County on November 29th & 30th to meet with representatives from both the county and the schools.

But OpenRDA’s slow reaction to Supervisor Hobert’s request may result in “too little, too late” response from Clarke County government. As the county’s incumbent software provider, OpenRDA had an open invitation for suggesting ways to solve the problems being voiced by county staff. That advantage now appears to have been lost as the county has launched a separate software evaluation effort with the ultimate result being issuance of a request for proposal aimed at finding a replacement for OpenRDA.

Director Tom Judge told the Joint Administrative Services committee that he had recently spoken with two other small Virginia municipalities, Gloucester County and Isle of Wight County, to get advice on how they had solved their county’s data management and information needs. Judge mentioned solutions that supported browser-based interfaces operating on Linux server platforms. Software-as-a-Service, a relatively new method of providing services where software and data are stored on remote servers rather than county-owned equipment, was also discussed.

But while it is one thing to talk about potential solutions, the committee appeared united that it was quite another thing to purchase and implement the correct solution.

“It seems like this will be quite a challenge for our small county to accomplish,” said committee member Robina Bouffault.

“Yes, that’s true,” replied Information Technology director Gordon Russell. “That’s why we have lived with these issues the way that they are for so long.” Russell also said that he had recently seen cost figures from a southern Virginia municipality that recently implemented similar software. Russell said general costs for software were approximately $275K and data migration to the new platform added another $435K to the bill.

As the committee discussed the complexities of even beginning to define the scope of what needed to be procured Director Tom Judge offered the notion of investigating the cost of a consultant that would help define the county’s needs and assist in the development of the request for proposals document.

“It might be good to find a consultant to give us some advice on how to do this,” Judge told the committee members. “We need to get a buy-in from all of our constituencies of exactly where we need to go with this. We need to be sure that we have buy-in from all of the various departments.”

Judge told the committee that he would get proposals from several consultants so that he could advise the members possibly as early as the next JAS meeting in December.

“We’re going to be addressing the county budget over the next few months,” Supervisor Hobert told Judge and the other committee members. “It would be good to have an estimate of how much of a bite this software is going to take.”

The Hobert and the other Joint Administrative Services committee members agreed to put the idea of developing a request for proposal document on hold pending Judge’s estimate on the cost of hiring a consultant as well as learning more from the pending feedback from OpenRDA.

The next meeting of the Joint Administrative Services Board will be at 12:00 pm Thursday, December 16 at the Joint Maintenance Facility.


  1. Just sayin says:

    If the initial investment is more than recouped in better efficiency, more accurate data management, and stronger financial management in the long run, it would seem to justify the cost. Governing on the cheap only creates more costly fixes down the road, and there are ample examples in this county of just that.

  2. Why do we always have to pay someone to tell us what we need to do. Why not ask the people who this county has hired or elected, and who will be using this program everyday if it will meet the needs this county has. And if they say it will then take the money we would have hired someone to “consult us” and apply it to the program. After all who knows better what we need in this county then the people who work with it everyday?

  3. Fly on the wall says:

    It would seem that the current vendor has dropped the ball, so a change is in order. Take the funds, and get a new software platform. All of the handwringing, and indecisiveness, only ends up costing more as delays are created. No consultant is needed.