Sacramento: Computer woes still hit county: Payroll goofs irk employees : LUSENET : TimeBomb 2000 (Y2000) : One Thread

Computer woes still hit county: Payroll goofs irk employees

By Robert D. Davila Bee Staff Writer (Published Feb. 19, 2000)

A new $35 million computer system installed by Sacramento County more than a year ago continues to make serious and frequent errors in the paychecks of thousands of county workers.

The problems have been so persistent that one employee union accused the county of being in breach of contract.

The county, in turn, has fired off an angry letter to the company that sold it the computer system. In the meantime, the county is pouring money into trying to fix the system. County Executive Terry Schutten said in a Jan. 28 letter to SAP Public Sector and Education Inc. that the errors have "overwhelmed" payroll staff and raised serious doubts about the new system -- called COMPASS -- among employees, labor unions and the Board of Supervisors.

An informal survey this month among 18 workers in the Human Assistance department found 22 types of pay errors -- including no union dues deducted, comp time mistakes, no Social Security taxes deducted and raises not paid. Ten employees said they could not understand differences from check to check.

"One person was double paid one paycheck, and then the next paycheck was for 100 bucks," said Robin Tatam, an employee in the county's Department of Human Assistance. "You can't live not knowing what you're going to get paid each time."

The Sacramento County Probation Association threatened a breach-of-contract claim because the county failed to correctly deduct dues for on-call workers for more than eight months, union President Bill Harper said. Since then, some paychecks have had dues mistakenly deducted twice. Schutten said snafus with COMPASS, which took over the payroll in January 1999, worsened in

December with new software used for end-of-year reports. Problems included errors in deferred compensation, wage amounts, tax withholding, garnishments, vacation accrual and credit union deductions.

"The number, complexity and timing of these problems (at end-of-year) are causing serious erosion in our confidence that this system can accurately and effectively handle the county's payroll process," he wrote.

Within days of receiving the letter, top SAP officials flew to Sacramento to meet in person with Schutten and other county staff, SAP field services director Bruce Tara said.

"We said, 'Yep, we understand,' and 'Yep, we're partners with you,' " said Tara, whose company is based near Dallas.

Meanwhile, the county is continuing to spend money trying to fix COMPASS. Last fall, supervisors grudgingly agreed to spend $500,000 for more training from SAP. This month, the board approved additional positions to improve monitoring of COMPASS.

The county purchased the computer system from SAP in 1997 to replace outdated mainframes that were not prepared for Y2K. The system processes a variety of tasks previously done independently, including payroll, financial, personnel and billing functions.

The system has performed most of those functions with few problems since it went on line in stages, starting in July 1998, officials said. The system processes tasks for all county departments, as well as local fire, parks and other special districts.

But the part of the system responsible for issuing 18,000 paychecks every two weeks and 6,000 pension checks monthly has not worked as well. While many paychecks are issued with no problems, the frequency and number of mistakes still slipping through, and the apparent inability to stop them, are taking a toll on employee morale.

The problems are aggravated by the payroll demands of the second-largest employer in Sacramento. The county has about 13,000 employees with myriad individual payments and deductions for benefits, union dues, credit union accounts, deferred compensation, vacation time, comp time and tax withholdings, officials said.

An article about Sacramento County's computer woes in this month's issue of Government Technology magazine suggests the county underestimated the demands of running COMPASS once the system was on line. The report blames poor user training and inadequate staffing.

Schutten described his letter to SAP as "a wake-up call" to the company. But he declined in an interview to criticize either the contractor or county staff for the ongoing payroll problems.

"We have a strong relationship with SAP, and they are as committed as we are to getting things right," Schutten said. "I'm interested in where we go from here to fix it."

Schutten outlined more fixes in a memo this week. SAP and the county agreed to correct specific problems described in the January letter within three weeks, he said. New hardware for payroll support was installed last week, and SAP is providing an additional consultant.

An ombudsman has been authorized to issue emergency checks on the spot for any problems discovered on a payday, Schutten said. In addition, plans are under way for an in-house academy to better train payroll staff on COMPASS.

Training is a critical issue, officials said. COMPASS performs more key tasks than the old mainframes did but also requires more expertise to operate properly. The new system also has decentralized automation among about 1,100 employees throughout the bureaucracy, which previously assigned most computer tasks to a core staff of 100.

"We have some people hired at the clerical level who don't know how to use a (computer) mouse," deputy chief information officer Alan Routhier said. "Normally, it takes several years to put a system like this in.

We did it in 18 months, and that's a major cultural change for an organization this size."

-- Carl Jenkins (, February 19, 2000


SAP huh? I seem to remember that Hershey and Whirlpool are still having trouble with that POS software.

Mainframes are really the ONLY way to go, if you value your business. End of story. Perhaps in another 20 years client/server systems will have matured to the point where they're reliable enough for large enterprises.

-- Dennis (, February 19, 2000.

There is a definite shift away from client server in progress. Mainframes are coming back in a big way... sysprogs are gonna start getting alot more pricey.

-- MR. MVS (, February 19, 2000.

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