Monday, February 18th, 2019

Author: Scott D. Yost

About Scott D. Yost

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Ye Olde County Computing System Leaping Into 21st Century

The ‘80s were a fun time for its Miami Vicepastel fashions and Def Leppard music, but the Guilford County Board of Commissioners has decided to move the county’s central computing system off of a legacy platform that still has computer code from the ‘80s and even some earlier than that.

The county has decided to cast off the old – a computing system from Lawson Software Inc. that the county has used for 13 years – and instead purchase a new iPhone- and iPad-friendly system expected to make the lives of county employees much easier – once they learn the new system.   

Like Lawson, the new system “Munis,” from Tyler Technologies, handles almost all aspects of Guilford County government: financial records, human resources functions, talent management, supply procurement, bidding events, payroll and more.

While Guilford County purchased the existing Lawson system in 2005, it was written in COBOL – a computing language introduced in 1959. 

The Guilford County Commissioners voted unanimously at a work session last week to throw out the old and bring in the new after Guilford County Chief Information Officer Hemant Desai made a compelling case why they should do so.  He said Lawson simply wasn’t keeping up with the times.

“The mindset is to keep the customer in an older platform for too long, and I think that is what caused me some grief over supporting that product that was so aged,” Desai said. “It depends on technologies that are 20th century technologies.  It’s actually written in COBOL.  I’m not kidding.  And we still have COBOL modules in 2019 running in Guilford County.”

Commissioner Jeff Phillips jumped in and said, “I was programming in COBOL in 1982,” and Commissioner Skip Alston said he was doing the same in 1976.

Commissioner Alan Perdue was the director of Guilford County Emergency Services when Lawson was implemented and Perdue said he still remembers the massive headaches.

“We tried to put a square peg in a round hole,” Perdue said. 

He added that, to make county employees feel better, county management put up signs that said, “We’re going nuts over Lawson!”

“I said we need to change that to say, ‘Lawson is driving us nuts,’ he said.  “It didn’t work and I think we’ve been suffering over that for quite some time.”

Perdue said that buying the new system looks like “a cost” but, really, when productivity and new opportunities are factored into the equation, it will be a cost saver.

Some of the key benefits of the new system include a modern user interface that plays well with mobile devices, enhanced reporting capabilities, more financial features and a design built from the ground up specifically for local government.

The county will pay recurring fees of $730,000 for five years and a one-time Implementation cost of $1.4 million for a total five-year cost of just over $5 million.

By making the move, Guilford County will save about $650,000 that it won’t have to shell out to upgrade its Lawson system this year.  

County officials expect to benefit financially from enhanced employee productivity since the system will hopefully be faster and easier to use.

County staff say they’ve experienced major problems over the last year and a half with the current system, which they say crashes often.  According to a statement from county staff, that has “negatively impacted users ability to perform their daily functions.”

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PTIA Plans Major Road Renovation In Arrival And Departure Area

If you think it’s hectic dropping off or picking up passengers at Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA) on a busy air travel day right now, well, it’s going to be a lot more hectic later this year because PTIA is conducting a major renovation, repair and replacement project of the roadway and parking plaza in front of the arrival and departure gates.

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Samet Chosen To Build $20-Million County Mental Health Building

A Guilford County staff selection committee has decided that Greensboro-based Samet Corp. is “by far” the right company to build a new $20-million adult services mental health building to be constructed on Third Street in Maple Professional Park in Greensboro, near the Guilford County Department of Health and Human Services Building on Maple Street.

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Census Sheds Light On County Computing And Commuting

The US Census Bureau is best known for its wildly popular population results released once every 10 years; however, census workers don’t just lay down on the job and rest on their laurels the other nine years – in fact, they are very busy bees, constantly collecting all sorts of information you might never think they would.

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Guilford County Government Not Fazed By Shut Down

According to reports out of multiple Guilford County departments and the Guilford County Board of Commissioners this week, the partial government shutdown isn’t having any effect on Guilford County government with one exception – some families will get their food and nutrition benefits earlier than usual.

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Sheriff Rogers Puts His Spin On Citizen Academy

Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers is getting rid of a lot of the old practices from the Sheriff’s Department as it was run under former longtime Sheriff BJ Barnes, but there’s one tradition he’s decided to continue and put his own unique spin on: Rogers and his new department will use the Guilford County Sheriff’s Citizen Academy as part of a broader effort to bridge the divide between the Sheriff’s Department and the county’s citizens.

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Summerfield Hires Attorney To Defend Town Councilmember

This week, the Summerfield Town Council voted 4 to 1 to retain attorney Gray Wilson, with the Winston-Salem firm of Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough, to defend the town as well as Town Councilmember Dianne Laughlin – who’s being sued by former Summerfield Town Councilmember Todd Rotruck over the seat that Rotruck lost and Laughlin now occupies.

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PTIA Gains Altitude In 2018

Given all the good things that happened at Piedmont Triad International Airport (PTIA) in 2018, years from now area citizens may very well look back on the year and say it was the one when the airport finally took off.  In many ways, over the past 12 months, PTIA has started to look like the Little Airport that Could.  There’s no question, at least, that the airport thinks it can, thinks it can.

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Alston Hot About Black Participation In Building Contract

Meetings held by Guilford County commissioners and staff to set the agenda for upcoming Board of Commissioners meetings are almost always low-key affairs, however, at a Tuesday, Jan. 8 agenda meeting, Chairman Alan Branson and Commissioner Skip Alston got into a lively back and forth over the amount of work that would go to black-owned firms in a proposed contract for a $14.4-million county construction project.

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Cure Violence May Find Home With One Step Further

On Wednesday, Jan. 2, some Guilford County commissioners, Greensboro City Councilmembers and county and city staff met in the Old Guilford County Court House in downtown Greensboro to discuss a proposed Cure Violence initiative and see whether the program, if approved, should be placed administratively under the non-profit One Step Further Inc.

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Megasite Better Than Ever And Primed For Good News

Talk of the Greensboro-Randolph Megasite may have died down since the site was passed over by a Toyota-Mazda project almost exactly one year ago, but there are still high hopes for the site, and area leaders say it remains very attractive to large automotive companies and others.

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County’s Inmate Population Growing By One Inmate A Decade

Jail population numbers included in the latest Guilford County audit show that, for the most recent complete fiscal year, 2017-2018, the number of inmates held in the county’s two jails is almost exactly the same as it was 10 years ago when the county decided to build a giant 1,032-bed $100-million jail because the jail population was expected to “skyrocket” over the next decade.

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High Point Rockers Go On Hiring Frenzy

The big High Point downtown baseball stadium project promised new jobs for area residents – and the team that will play there is now delivering on that promise: The High Point Rockers baseball team has just announced a slew of new jobs that it’s looking to fill.

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Greensboro And United Way Promote Mentoring Month

January is a time when everyone typically gets back to work after taking off a month and a half, but Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughan, the City of Greensboro and the United Way of Greater Greensboro are asking everyone to see the month as something else as well – a time to sign up to mentor kids who need guidance during the most important stages in their lives.

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State May Help Pay For Mental Health Overhaul

The saying goes, “Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid,” and Guilford County officials are hoping the State of North Carolina will be one of those forces that comes to its aid in the county’s bold new mental health initiative.

Guilford County officials have a major plan to recreate the delivery of mental health services across the county and they would like some help paying the bill.  In early 2019, the county will ask the state for some financial backing for the plan, which state officials have already said they admire greatly.

This week, State Rep. Jon Hardister said he certainly can see the NC General Assembly getting on board.  He said that could even be done without adding any new money to the state budget since the budget already includes funds to enhance mental health services in North Carolina.

“The money in the Dorothea Dix Fund goes to mental health,” Hardister said, adding that the county could apply for a grant from that fund.

Two weeks ago, Guilford County announced that it had entered into an agreement with Cone Health system and Sandhills Center, with the blessing of state officials, to completely reshape the way mental health services are delivered.  That’s all well and good but the plan calls for, among other things, a new county building estimated to cost about $20 million.

Hardister said that in his mind it’s certainly a worthy cause for state backing.

“It is not rare for the General Assembly to support mental health at the local level,” he said. “We all recognize that it’s a problem.”

He added that Guilford County, Cone and Sandhills are making a “substantial” move to address the problem and the state would certainly like to help the endeavor be successful.

Guilford County Commissioner Jeff Phillips, who’s been the county’s point man on the project, said he’s been very pleased at the way the state has received the idea so far. 

Phillips said his interactions with Hardister, Rep. John Faircloth, State Senator Rick Gunn and others had been very positive.

“I’ve been very encouraged by those conversations,” Phillips said.

He also said one of the big pluses about this particular issue is that it’s not really political: Both Democrats and Republicans are highly interested in improving mental health services.

“Whether you’ve got a D or an R beside your name, that doesn’t matter,” Phillips said.  “It’s sort of like the Family Justice Center and domestic violence  – everybody agrees that’s an area we need to focus on.  And this is an area where everyone agrees we need to do better.”

The issue is likely to be addressed by the General Assembly in the spring.

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