Despite Odds, Georgia Hits It Big with ERP System

It was a big bang project - going live with an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system throughout an entire organization at once. Employees even had to camp out at work in sleeping bags at certain crucial moments.

But it seems to have been worth the struggle. It's been a year since the state of Georgia's Department of Administrative Services (DOAS) completed its massive PeopleSoft Inc. ERP software implementation, and despite numerous obstacles the project was finished on time and on budget, at $52 million.

"They got a great deal," given all the modules implemented, said David Dobrin, an analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based consultancy Surgency Inc. Moreover, it only took a year and a half, while ERP projects in other states the size of Georgia - which has a budget of $24 billion - often take two to five years. The DOAS system now supports 5,000 end users through 80 agencies.

DOAS employees attributed the success to constant communication via a Web page, e-mail, instant messaging and other means, as well as face-to-face meetings and extensive planning. The project also had support from the governor's office, giving DOAS managers the confidence to make rapid decisions, said Ethan Meadows, an analyst at The Hunter Group Inc. in Baltimore, which worked on the integration. But, DOAS managers said, the project worked because it had to.

"We had no choice," said Sue Armstrong, assistant director of information technology at the DOAS. "Failure was not an option."

The DOAS provides financial and human resources services such as accounting and payroll for dozens of key state agencies. Needing to come into compliance with the Generally Accepted Accounting Principles and, more important, brace itself for year 2000, the DOAS started rewriting its legacy applications in 1991.

However, that effort was only halfway done when the Y2k deadline suddenly loomed all too close, so the DOAS decided to buy a standardized system rather than retool the existing one, said Armstrong.

Untying the Knot

Kicked off in March 1998, the initiative, dubbed the "Phoenix Program," allowed the DOAS to consolidate a decades-old hodgepodge of mainframe applications into a single integrated platform accessing one common database via TCP/IP. The old SNA-based systems used redundant data and had overlapping operations and reporting, burdening the network with excess traffic, said Phoenix workers.

But the new system had its price. Besides adding temporary employees to help oversee the project, the DOAS had to conduct extensive training of its existing staff.

Despite the costs, there are considerable benefits, said Charles Petty, accounting director at the DOAS. Queries for financial data that used to take a month are now completed instantly. Annual contract reviews that once could have taken weeks are now done in hours. "It's reduced the preparation for the audit time by at least 50%," he said.

A state-government ERP implementation is often more complex than a private-sector one, said Dennis Parkinson, a director at Hunter.

Among other things, there's often a Gordian knot of regulations, boards, commissions and agencies that must be disentangled to complete the project. "There tend to be lots of turf wars," said Parkinson.

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