Computer upgrade a headache for some (computer problems - billings) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


Computer upgrade a headache for some

By Robert D. Davila Bee Staff Writer (Published Oct. 27, 1999)

Marcene Gandolfo-Gillaspy hasn't seen a Sacramento County utility statement in the blizzard of bills, notices and promotions that has filled the mailbox since she and her husband bought their Laguna home last July.

Meanwhile, Jill Ralph has received three bills totaling $353 for garbage, sewage, storm drainage and water service at the Duovo Way house that she and her husband sold to Gandolfo-Gillaspy.

When the Ralphs reported the problem, a county operator said processing the service change could take as long as six months because of glitches in a new computer system.

The prospect of receiving a utility bill that could total more than $700 has unsettled Gandolfo-Gillaspy, who learned about the problem from the seller, not the county.

"We're first-time home buyers, and we pretty much cleaned out our savings when we bought the house," she said. "I think we'll manage it, but getting that kind of a bill is kind of overwhelming."

Sacramento County officials are scrambling to fix the bugs in a $35 million computer project known as COMPASS -- Comprehensive Online Management, Personnel and Accounting System for Sacramento. The system handles financial, human resources, payroll, billing and other office tasks for all county departments, as well as local fire, parks and other special districts.

County supervisors agreed in 1997 to buy COMPASS from SAP Public Sector and Education Inc., which provided similar technology for Hewlett-Packard, Intel and Microsoft, said Stephen R. Ferguson, county chief of communications information and technology.

Crews installed the integrated system in three stages to replace outdated, independent mainframes that were not expected to survive Y2K. The most recent phase, for processing utility bills, went on line Aug. 1.

"It was going to cost $15 million to remediate our 15-year-old systems for Y2K, and when we were done we'd still have 15-year-old systems," Ferguson said. "Instead, we decided to look to the future and go with one of the most visionary systems in the industry."

Compared with similar systems, COMPASS "has been pretty tame as far as most problems are concerned," Ferguson said. Among other tasks, the system handles about 18,000 paychecks every two weeks and 6,000 pension checks monthly.

But snafus have surfaced, mostly from human error rather than hardware or software problems, Ferguson said.

The system miscalculated tax withholding and union dues for 1,000 employees. Workers also have reported incorrect retirement contributions, overtime pay and other problems, which must be fixed by Dec. 20 in time for the county to issue correct 1999 tax statements.

COMPASS has not deducted dues for 200 members of the Sacramento County Employees Organization since last December, union leader R. Joy Hensley said. The county also is behind in reporting new hires and other employee changes to labor groups, she said. "Things have gotten better, but it's been a mess," Hensley said. "I don't think Y2K would have been half as big a problem as COMPASS has been."

Address changes for about 5,000 Sacramento County utility customers remain backlogged, most for two to three months, assistant administrator Ray LeVittsaid. Temporary workers have been hired to speed up the process.

"We've had some angry callers," LeVitt said.

Meanwhile, a "brain drain" is hampering efforts to fix COMPASS. Four of the 10 system technicians have quit since March, complaining of high stress and low pay, a staff report said. Last month, supervisors agreed to pay SAP up to $500,000 for additional technical support.

"We're in the process of addressing all the problems, and I think we're pretty close," Ferguson said. When Y2K rolls around for the county's computer systems in about two months, he said, "I think we'll be just fine."

-- Homer Beanfang (, October 27, 1999


"Things have gotten better, but it's been a mess," Hensley said. "I don't think Y2K would have been half as big a problem as COMPASS has been."

What the heck is that supposed to mean?

It sounds like he's saying Y2K wouldn't have been half as bad if they didn't have to go and fix those pesky computers!

-- Clyde (, October 27, 1999.

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