GOVERNMENT TECHNOLOGY/ERP systems help with integration
According to DataQuest, a San Jose, Calif.-based research firm, spending on information technology by state and local governments will reach $52.2 billion in 2003. That is up from $39.8 billion in 1999, which is good news for city and county governments eager to hop aboard the electronic government bandwagon.
However, before they pour money into sophisticated web sites aimed at enhancing constituent services, local governments must make sure that vital back-office systems are in order. Much like a snazzy sports car with a defective engine, a stellar web site may look nice, but it cannot operate effectively if it is integrated with an unstable human resources or financial system.
Within the last few years, local governments have begun recognizing the benefits of implementing enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to run their back-office systems. Made by companies like J.D. Edwards, Denver; Lawson, St. Paul, Minn.; Oracle, Redwood Shores, Calif.; PeopleSoft, Pleasanton, Calif.; and SAP, Walldorf, Germany, ERP software enables city and county offices to replace aging legacy systems that have become difficult to maintain. Additionally, they eliminate redundancies in data entry, storage and processing.
Despite the benefits of ERP software, many local government agencies are understandably wary about the costs and time required to implement it. But the experience of Pasadena, Calif., one of the first cities to implement an ERP solution, demonstrates that the process, though challenging, does offer many rewards.
Pasadena had used a legacy system to perform its financial management functions for more than 10 years. In 1996, however, city officials realized that the system was not Y2K-compliant and made plans to replace it with an ERP system.
Since the implementation of the system, Pasadena has achieved reductions in the amount of time and paper necessary to produce financial reports. (Previously, it took up to 10 days each month to process, print, sort and mail 20 to 30 boxes of reports; now financial data can be viewed online or processed in just one day.) Additionally, employees are able to query the system on their own, eliminating the necessity of going through the IT department. More than 200 people currently use the system, and more users will be added in the near future.
Pasadena is now looking to integrate its ERP system with the World Wide Web to enhance constituent access to information and allow for employee self-service. The system also might allow for electronic procurement of government services.
Some government agencies also are beginning to consider the development of portals, which would link their web sites to their back-end systems, enabling citizens, employees and vendors to obtain the information and services they need. Most portals employ a role-based system of access so that users can only access the information that applies to them.
For some cities and counties, solutions such as ERP and portals are out of reach – either for budgetary reasons or because their legacy and home-grown computer systems have not yet outlived their usefulness. For those local governments, an emerging technology called enterprise application integration (EAI) links various legacy systems and allows governments to share information among offices or departments without needing to replace disparate systems with a common framework. As in Pasadena, city and county governments that implement ERP software, portal technology or EAI may find that the solutions boost employee work efficiency and provide constituents with easier access to information.