State needs money, staff to upgrade new computer (Montana) : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread


State needs money, staff to upgrade new computer By ERICA CURLESS Gazette State Bureau HELENA - Unless the state finds $650,000 to hire six more people, Montana can't update its new $16.5 million computer system and reap the benefits promised by the new network, state officials said Wednesday.

The 1999 Legislature denied new staff positions for the bureau that oversees the new network, which keeps the state's books and integrates the 30 state agencies and allows them to share information, said Tony Herbert, state Information Services Division administrator.

But officials aren't yet asking lawmakers for the extra cash. Instead, state Administration Department Director Lois Menzies said she hopes to find the $650,000 within the existing budget. Menzies added that one option is to ask other state agencies to give any unspent money in their budgets to the project.

"If we can't do it we will have to seek supplemental funds," Menzies said.

Though the state just installed the new $16.5 million network, it's time for software upgrades to make the system more efficient. These periodical improvements were a reason the state bought an off-the-shelf commercial software package from PeopleSoft Corp., instead of building a new bookkeeping and human resources system like it did in the 1970s. PeopleSoft will send Montana system updates about every 18 months.

Menzies said the state knew installing these upgrades would require well-trained staff familiar with PeopleSoft, but lawmakers only gave the department one person instead of the five originally requested to handle the improvements. Unless six more people are hired, Montana won't have the ability to have the first upgrade in place by April 2000, Menzies said.

During the 1999 Legislature, several lawmakers foresaw problems with installing the new system and stripped $680,000 from the network's budget. But after several fiery debates, legislators agreed to reinstate four positions and add $100,00 for consulting services. However, this didn't include enough employees to oversee the upgrades.

This is the latest problem plaguing the $16.5 million system.

Senior Legislative Fiscal Analyst Jim Turner will present a report Friday to the interim Legislative Finance Committee that shows many of the initial glitches such as issuing paychecks, federal financial reports and paying companies that do business with Montana, are fixed.

In a draft copy of the report, Turner said though these short-term problems have been remedied, lawmakers must focus on the long-term problems such as system efficiency.

And these upgrades are part of what will make the system efficient. Montana will receive an upgrade for both its human resource and financial systems. Menzies said these new software versions will improve payroll and benefit processing, allow state employees to enter their hours directly into the payroll system and improve security.

Many people still question whether the system will live up to its expectations of efficiencies and improved access to information. But state officials, like Menzies, insist the system will work.

Many employees have complained that entering information into the system takes twice as long. Menzies said the department never promised that the system would be more efficient at the data-entry end, but that the benefit was the availability of more information.

Some agencies like the Secretary of State's Office have stopped using the system for charging other state agencies for services such as photocopies. Instead of doing the money transfers electronically, the office is asking agencies to write a check.

Menzies said this is only a temporary problem that should be fixed by January.

Because the network isn't providing the state Department of Public Health and Human Services all the information it needs to manage its human resources information, it is taking information from the system and creating a new database. Once this work is complete, the information will be available for all agencies to use.

Menzies said it was known PeopleSoft couldn't provide all the information each agency would need and that's why some departments are customizing needed reports.

Turners report said that state officials are stressing the "build it once and share it" concept when it comes to these customized reports.

He adds: "Though there is potential for faster processing in some financial and human resource areas, it is likely that many processes will always take longer than with the old system. It is therefore crucial that the remaining areas of potential efficiency be exploited as fully as possible.

Updated: Thursday, December 9, 1999 Copyright ) The Billings Gazette, a division of Lee Enterprises.

-- Homer Beanfang (, December 09, 1999


Montana, cold.

-- somebody (give@them.calendar), December 09, 1999.

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