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Jefferson County prepares to overhaul financial software

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Jefferson County soon will begin the process of upgrading its outdated financial software to the tune of $1 million to $1.5 million with funds initially set aside in 2010.

Overhauling the program officials call the “backbone” of county government, first installed in 1999, will be a lengthy process and involve all departments, according to Scott A. Gray, R-Watertown, chairman of the Board of Legislators Finance and Rules Committee.

It will start with a series of comprehensive presentations from three vendors selected after a round of 2012 interviews conducted by staff and overseen by an ad hoc committee of legislators composed of Mr. Gray, Philip N. Reed, R-Fishers Landing, and Robert D. Ferris, R-Watertown.

County Information Technology Director Gregory C. Hudson said the stand-alone program, which has yet to be selected, will run on separate hardware interfaced with Microsoft Windows and will handle payroll, purchasing, human resources functions, fixed asset tracking, accounts payable, and possibly even tax accounting.

Customized modules in the current software intended to tailor the master program to the specific needs of the county have made updating the system prohibitively expensive, Deputy Administrator Michael E. Kaskan said.

Every time an upgrade was made to the overarching system, individual upgrades would have to be made to all the auxiliary customized programs created by the original vendor.

The cost grew rapidly and eventually the county abandoned the updates altogether.

Instead, large parts of the software essentially were rewritten by programmers in the county’s Information Technology Department.

These programmers would take their expertise with them if they retire or change jobs, leaving county officials in the vulnerable position of trying to figure out how to run vital programs without the assistance of the authors.

Mr. Kaskan said the county was determined to avoid repeating the mistake of modifying the software in the future.

All of the programs on the market today are prepackaged, which has both positive and negative implications.

Both Mr. Gray and Mr. Kaskan stressed that the county will have to accept that arrangement.

“We’ll have to live with the good and the bad,” Mr. Gray said.

According to Mr. Hudson, adjusting to the new non-customized system will involve some compromise.

“We’ll maybe have to change the way we do business” he said.

County Treasurer Karen M. Christie, whose department will be one of those most directly affected by the change-over, has an extensive wish list for the new software.

It includes automatic journal entries, customized reports, automated purchasing and a more efficient system for managing interdepartmental expenses.

The software also will have to work well with outside systems, including the state software used by the Department of Social Services.

Laura C. Cerow, DSS commissioner, said that although the department has its own IT staff and primarily uses the state system, it does interact with the county in a few key areas, including payroll, human resources and insurance.

From a policy standpoint, Mr. Gray said, the legislature “wants all of the department heads and as many employees as possible involved in the upgrade.”

It’s part of a consensus-building process that will ensure “ownership at all levels,” he said.

The selection of the vendor is only the start of the transition, as several steps are still involved, not the least of which will be moving all the old files to the new system.

According to Mr. Kaskan, the process most likely will continue into 2014.

“The conversion process will take the better part of a year before we can go live with it, so we want to pick carefully,” Ms. Christie said.

Presentations will start within the next month.

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