Saturday, February 19, 2011

Jacksonville to upgrade computer system with caution

Jacksonville is planning to spend about $7 million over the next two years to upgrade its back-office computer system - a type of project that has resulted in costly and catastrophic failure in other municipalities.

But the way the city is going about the switch ameliorates the dangers, several experts in these types of transitions said. Many such projects fail because the organization changes direction in midstream or employees fail to adapt to new systems, but the mayor's office is looking to spend $2 million this year to get a path laid out first.

If all goes well, the changes should allow the city to operate more efficiently and to provide more data both to employees and the public.

The multi-year project involves switching things like payroll, accounting and procurement to an "enterprise resource planning system," replacing the 25-year-old technology the city now uses. As well as upgrading hardware and software, the new system will require some employees to do their jobs in a different way, forcing a change in workplace culture as information is shared differently and job descriptions are modified.

Oak Park, Ill., began to switch to an ERP system in 2003. Five years and $1.6 million later, nothing was installed. More recently, Marion County, Ind., spent $30 million - and sued its consultant, who countersued - for a project that started in 2005 and was abandoned last year.

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