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I watched the Board of Supervisors on Monday interview county staff for hours about the new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system that the county blew $5.6 million on before actually doing a proper feasibility analysis to see if the software system would actually accommodate the county’s needs. I wasn’t sure if I was watching a comedy or a financial tragedy in the making. It appears that the county CAO jumped the gun and completely underestimated this new ERP computer system, as she failed to do the proper needs assessment, feasibility studies and system analysis prior to spending $5.6 million on this software.
The county bought a $5.6 million piece of software and just now found out that the eight-digit account numbers that the county uses can now only be four digits long, a limitation of the software. County Auditor Joe Harn, CPA, stated that his department was looking at how they might truncate all of the county’s longer account numbers to accommodate this system. Visions of the Abacus went through my head in response to this comment. A $5.6 million ERP software system that cannot handle more than a four-digit account number? Are you kidding me? Joe Harn also stated that they are trying to determine how the county can use the software provider’s General Ledger system after the county already bought it.
Harn stated that they are “doing business process analysis now.” He stated that there is not nearly enough county professional staffing for an ERP system implementation. Harn wants to hire three CPAs and $2.8 million more in interim professionals to implement this software (not estimated originally).
Joe Harn states that there are lots of hurdles to overcome in determining the tons of gray areas about the software implementation. While I find it commendable that Harn is in contact with Marin County to see what things he and his staff can learn from its $60 million failed ERP implementation, that system was a completely different Oracle-based system. Perhaps if the county really wants to find out the failings of the software it already purchased it should contact Ventura County, who sued Tyler Technologies for a system that had failures and did not deliver. Joe Harn also stated that he and his staff are trying to “steal information from Mendocino County about how to best implement Tyler Technologies software,” also a commendable approach that should have been taken before committing $5.6 million.
Harn went on to describe the implementation process as driving a car and “putting the car in high gear, slam on brakes, put it in reverse and then drive it off a cliff.” Mr. Harn’s analogy of a white-knuckle software implementation ride reminded me of another similar story. I remember a large company that had purchased a $12 million SAP ERP software system and attempted to implement it on one of the company’s divisions with the simplest and easiest processes as to be assured of success. I also remember being told over a year later that they could take all the work they did for a year, place it on a card table, light a match to it and start all over again. I hope this is not what is going to occur with El Dorado.
I am pleased that Joe Harn is talking to Marin County about its failed $60 million ERP system and Mendocino that is supposedly running the Tyler software on how to get up and running, but what I heard Monday was Joe Harn trying to be politically correct and hold back some choice words that he probably really wanted to say. It really seems like the county CAO Terri Daly really put the cart before the horse on this one.