Everybody knows an old dilapidated house. You know the kind, where you can’t flush the toilet if someone’s in the shower. Where the fuse box is so old that using the garage door opener while the dishwasher is running blows the fuse and kills half the lights in the whole place. Yes, it keeps the rain and cold out, mostly, and serves as shelter, but it needs major work to bring it up to what it could be. New windows, new heating, fix those pipes and it could be a nice place. But what about that sag in the roofline and the tilt to the doorframe? Do we live with it like it is, fix it up, or move to a new place?
El Dorado County government faces a dilemma like that old house. The county financial system is decades old; it was built for the old green screens and computer technology of the 1980s. There are more workarounds and shadow systems than you can imagine, many put in place to meet stricter accountability and audit requirements. Even the report generation is stodgy, limited and needs it’s own shadow system.
To be fair, the old system has not been replaced because it still works, mostly, and nobody wanted to spend the money and effort it would take to replace the aging system until it became absolutely necessary. Well, the company that owns the system is telling the county that the time is now. With only a few users left worldwide, every year the number shrinks as governments move to replacement systems. So is El Dorado County. For the past 18 months a team of elected officials, department heads and experienced financial staff worked through a thorough process of reviewing, selecting and contracting for a new system. The kickoff for the changeover happened the last week of May.
Participating in the selection process revealed a lot about how county leadership and employees view their responsibility. From the beginning, the selection team all agreed on one principle. We need to move to the most efficient way of managing our business, contracts, grants, purchasing, budgeting and money. The selection team rejected all proposals that offered to custom build a system that replaced the code, but left old ways in place. The system and vendor we chose will make us more efficient, more effective and more transparent. The system gives management the ability to make better use of resources. The contract price is fixed, and the county staff will do most of the inventorying, sorting and organizing with the vendor guiding and advising us through the process of moving to better business practices.
The change will take a couple of years and affect more than what the screens look like or how reports are generated. Every process the county uses will be analyzed before any of the new system is installed or operational. From building permit fee payment to grant and contract management, to how employees enter invoices and timesheets, will be scrutinized for improvement. For the next few months, the management team from each department will meet with staff, talk to our vendor and plan the move. Right now, departments are inventorying every process from the simple to the complex; the first step in the first phase of the move. For the large departments like Health and Human Services or Community Development, this effort is especially difficult. These agencies are still working through the change that accompanies consolidation.
This is change that goes all the way down to the roots of the organization. It is hard. Age-old processes represent security, and often also represent authority and power. Even though the vast majority of county workers support, embrace and look forward to the positive change, it will still take lots of working through issues, processes, fears and concerns before county government emerges from the move.
When we do emerge from the transition, the change will be evident.
Contracts and payments will be processed more efficiently and accurately. No layoffs are planned, but there will be more employees serving the public and fewer employees supporting internal processes like accounting, purchasing and budget preparation. Managers will have better information to use in making decisions. One big benefit that the county and the taxpayers will realize with this new system is the County Auditor will have better tools and resources for his role as watchdog. The new system will bring the public better understanding of how tax dollars are used to provide services. The budget information will be more available, better organized, better linked and more researchable. County government will be more transparent.
I started by comparing the county’s financial system to an old house and the need to move. It’s a good analogy. But when most of us move, we organize, clean, pack and load boxes around jobs, kids and life. While the county is analyzing, reorganizing and moving processes, we still provide public service and stay open for business.
So please, be patient.
Oh, we’re not moving to Phoenix. FENIX is the name of our new system and stands for Financial Enterprise Network Information Xchange.
But we are moving.
Karl Weiland is the El Dorado County Assessor and Chairman of the Information Technology Strategic Investment Team.