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.”