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Once stalled, software project progresses

More than a year after the city nearly canceled a software project that had already cost more than $1 million, those involved say they are still working to implement the project and that testing of the software is promising.

The revenue billing and collection software, manufactured by PCI LLC, is likely “the most complex software implementation the city has ever done,” Chief of Staff Debbie George said in a meeting recently.

In February last year, Treasurer Ron Williams asked City Council members to intervene when city officials informed the company the city wished to terminate its contract.

Williams said the city had too much invested to start over. Multiple city departments have been working on it since 2010.

But city officials said there were multiple problems, and they had to cut their losses.

The main problem was that information on payments taken for real estate and personal property taxes was not accurately transferring to the general ledger software. Suffolk has been successfully using the system for miscellaneous transactions since July 2011, but the system faltered on the city’s biggest revenue streams.

After Williams’ plea, the city and software company started working together. A target date for implementation was set for January 2016.

Now, the target date has been pushed to January 2017.

The city has spent more than $340,000 in additional costs trying to make the project work, including paying for part of a third-party audit and bringing on a full-time project manager.

But it has also received compromises from PCI, including paying the other half of the audit costs and providing the latest version of the software.

Getting the latest version required a lot of processes to start over again, George said. But a number of other problems have been corrected, too.

The audit firm, Cherry Bekaert, recommended formalizing processes and hiring the full-time project manager.

“Previously, we had a lot of turnover in our departments,” George said. “A lot of people were doing work others weren’t aware of. We have a central point of contact now.”

That point of contact, Susan Gard-Smith, is an employee of Slait Consulting, an IT contractor. She started last September.

“A lot of work has been done,” Gard-Smith said in a recent meeting of the project team, which meets every two weeks to discuss progress on the project.

“I think this team is working really well together,” Finance Director Tealen Hansen said.

Each department on the team has been systematically testing its part of the process. Issues now number only a few hundred. That sounds like a lot, but it’s a small fraction of the city’s 40,000 real estate parcels and 110,000 items of personal property across several years’ worth of data.

“It could be the same issue that’s created 500 issues,” George said.

“It’s just an enormous amount of data,” Williams said. “The conversion is the worst part, and that’s where we are right now.”

All of the team members praised PCI for working so hard to resolve the issues. Chris Rolston, chief information officer at PCI, regularly joins the team meetings by conference call. At a recent meeting, company president Alastair Main was on the phone as well.

“We’re pleased with the way things are moving forward,” Main said.

“PCI’s been very responsive when we hit those little bumps in the road,” Hansen said.

IT Director Ken Beam agreed.

“Everything’s going well right now,” he said. “Everybody has been working really hard on this thing to make it work. PCI’s been on top of everything.”