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KM software tailored for government

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Many government agencies have been trying to run more like businesses, seeking efficiency and cost-awareness to a greater degree than in the past. The lagging economy has reduced the amount of revenues, typically obtained from taxes, mandating a more streamlined approach to providing services. An important method for trimming expenses has been to use technology effectively, but especially at the state and local level, the expense of customizing software puts some of those products out of reach. One solution is to use a platform that is already designed for the public sector.

St. Louis County, Mo., has a population of more than 1 million people and a land area of 500 square miles. Up until a few years ago, the county was using a 35-year-old mainframe for its financial management system, which was limited in its functions and cumbersome to use. The system's licensing and maintenance fees had ballooned to $2 million per year. Its payroll system was adequate but the HR department was piecing together information manually, and all the departments were very paper-based.

Although St. Louis County badly needed an up-to-date enterprise resources planning (ERP) system, its finances were limited. Only a few vendors responded to its RFP, which included a statement of the available budget, and one of those did not meet the county's technical requirements. The remaining two were put through a rigorous evaluation process that included demos as well as lab tests in which county staff processed typical transactions.

Welcome change

The county selected Munis, a financial management system from Tyler Technologies. "Munis was a good match for us because it is specifically geared toward the public sector," says Joan Lafferty, ERP manager for St. Louis County. "We needed a product that would work out of the box, and that would effectively cover our primary operational requirements."

Going from a mainframe system to a much more functional product with a user-friendly interface was a major change but a welcome one. "We were able to eliminate almost all of our paper forms and have electronic workflow," Lafferty says. "In addition, having centralized document storage means that everyone with privileges can access those documents." The county now has role-based controls that allow more granular access; previously, users either had access to the entire information base or could not access it at all.

In addition to managing requisitions, accounts payable and receivable, general ledger and other functions, Munis manages payroll and HR. "Everything is more efficient now," Lafferty says. "About 90 percent of our invoices are processed within four days." In addition, the county is saving money on several fronts, including licensing costs, and has established online competitive bidding to help ensure that its procurement process brings in the best value for the money that is being spent.

Purchasing a software product that has multiple integrated modules has increased the county's ability to get an overview of its financial situation. The budget module in Munis is integrated with the general ledger, payroll, HR, fixed assets and other information. "In another system we would have had to import this information, which would have burdened our budget and department staff," Lafferty says. "Tyler Technologies also has a good understanding of fund accounting and how it is tied in with grants, which is an important part of our reporting."

Expansion plans

Another advantage of having an integrated suite is that adding new functionality is relatively easy. "We are enhancing our procurement process, and we are also adding the project ledger so that we can track and report on construction projects over the life of projects," Lafferty says. In addition, St. Louis County is hoping to add an inventory module that will help track food costs in the justice services department, which manages the county jails, and possibly expand to track resources in the police and highway departments.

Although some of the requirements for government financial management are the same as those for the private sector, others are different. In the public sector, for example, funds are allocated for specific functions that need to be tracked and reported on separately. "The public sector uses fund accounting, which requires a separate set of books for capital projects, grants and other activities," says Paul Crowley, VP of ERP product design at Tyler Technologies. "Also, the focus is on delivery of services, rather than sales and profits."

Tyler Technologies has steadily expanded its suite to include new modules. "We recently acquired EnerGov, a company that specializes in land management and permits, and we are adding its software to our product line as well as a park and recreation system we developed in house," Crowley says. Tyler Technologies has added support, too, for mobile devices so that field workers and inspectors can record their results, as well as provide employees with remote access to financial and HR data pertinent to their jobs.

An "evergreen" policy offers customers unlimited upgrades with no additional re-licensing fees. "Evergreen means that the city or county's investment is always protected, but the customer can choose when to upgrade," Crowley explains. "Some do not want to be on the bleeding edge of technology but prefer to wait until new features are fully mature, and we provide this option. We keep them moving forward but don't force them to adopt the most recent versions of software."

Public sector focus

Infor offers a series of industry-specific applications and suites, including numerous products for the public sector that include applications for public safety, utilities, education, libraries and transportation, a suite for the federal government, and a suite for state and local government. "Our state and local government suite incorporates multiple applications designed to assist agencies in functioning more smoothly and efficiently," says Juan Ortiz, senior product manager for public sector at Infor.

For example, one large city experienced major cutbacks that reduced by 30 percent the number of staff available to carry out inspections for permits. To keep the same level of service, the city implemented the Infor Public Sector (IPS) permitting module, so that applicants could submit their requests online. That change reduced the number of personnel required to manage the permitting process, and applicants could track their case over time. The city also launched the Infor utility billing module, which allowed online payment by customers. In addition, it provided for comparisons between water usage by a particular customer as compared to the average household, which helped identify problems with meters.

Infor Ming.le, another tool the company offers, is designed for business collaboration. The software is embedded in each Infor application, so that users of its ERP system, for example, can communicate with co-workers without leaving their primary application. They can share related documents, images or videos. "Users can ‘follow' other people or customer service requests, or view ongoing communications through the work order function," Ortiz explains. "This is an important method for disseminating knowledge throughout the agency, in a way that is tightly linked to the business applications employees are using."

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