Guilford County government is about to attempt something akin to repairing or replacing a jet engine while the jet is in flight.
Airlines only conduct major engine repairs while the plane is out of service, but Guilford County government doesn’t have the luxury of shutting down while it replaces or overhauls the computing system that runs the county.
Guilford County officials are about to decide if they should continue to patch a decade-old central computing system purchased from Lawson Software Inc. or instead make a big multi-million dollar leap to an entirely new system – and, if so, which one.
Few people know what “ERP” stands for, but the various attributes of the system that those three letters represent makes the daily life of the county’s 2,300 employees either easier or miserable. The Enterprise Resource Planning system is an integrated suite of software that handles financial records, Human Resources Department functions, talent management systems, supply procurement, bidding events, payroll and many other functions of the county’s government.
According to Guilford County Information Technology (IT) Director Hemant Desai, it’s now necessary for the county to address the issue.
“The County has been using Lawson for over 10 years now, however, in recent times, we have had several disrupting incidents with its stability,” he wrote in an email. “Additionally, the overall look and feel is not intuitive to many of [the] County users.”
According to Desai, some of the key requirements county officials will be looking for in any new ERP system will include a “modern” mobile-friendly interface, out of the box organization-wide financial capabilities and centralized search functionality with a high degree of ease of use.
That way, he said, there will be less dependence on the IT Department for day-to-day functionality and reports.
In the past, some Guilford County departments have had to rely on the IT Department for what should be relatively simple tasks such as posting announcements on a webpage.
Tighter integration with ancillary products is also a plus, he stated, in order to reduce the number of third-party interfaces required to run day to day operations.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Alan Branson said that it’s not clear how much it will cost the county to overhaul the existing system and he added that some financial aspects of a deal might be discussed in closed session at the Board of Commissioners Thursday, Jan. 17 meeting in order to protect proprietary information of the companies under consideration.
When the county made a big switch a decade ago from PeopleSoft to Lawson, it was a major headache for county employees in just about every department. Long after that implementation, Lawson continually flew people in to train county employees, many of whom complained constantly about the transition. Guilford County had to spend a lot more time and money than it planned making that switch and, even two years after the switch there were still major headaches.
When Guilford County Clerk to the board Robin Keller was asked if she remembers that transition, she replied emphatically, “Honey, I livedit.”
Keller said that the county had been constantly patching the current system but those fixes often left a lot to be desired. She said that Lawson had been acquired by a new owner since the county went to the system and that seemed to exacerbate some problems.