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Philly CIO: Troubled water billing system can still work

August 10, 2006 12:00 PM ET

He also said Neff and MOIS wanted to take over the water billing system -- which brings in $300 million a year in revenue -- because it was "the most complex and biggest" IT system in government. "Most of what went wrong had to do with empire-building, more than anything else," Kishinchand said, accusing officials of "putting all their eggs in one basket [Oracle], without consulting the water department."

Neff said that her office was involved in choosing the Oracle Enterprise Resource Planning E-Business suite for an array of city uses, including human resources and that the Finance Department decided to make water billing its first application. Once that decision was made, MOIS was brought in to implement the move. "Hindsight is 20/20, and ERP is difficult anyway," Neff said.

Instead of water billing, human resources ERP is the application most organizations start with because it is "fairly well defined in the industry with lots of productivity," Neff said. As for the water billing system, "it was a big system, very complicated, with very unique features," she said.

Another problem was that the system was designed to be run by multiple city departments, and there was constant turnover among executive sponsors, Neff said. "Continuity was a problem, and we could have had a better-defined business processes. Problems came up between the contractor and business people. As we put it, it was a project that 'washed ashore'" for IT to handle, she said.

The first finance director involved in Project Ocean, Janice Davis, left Philadelphia to become chief financial officer of Atlanta in August 2004. Reached in Atlanta, Davis responded to Kishinchand's critique, saying, "There was no effort on anyone's part to build an empire, only to upgrade the system."

A year ago, MOIS was appointed to analyze the work done so far, leading to a halt in the project and the suspension of several consultants, including Oracle employees and at least one private contractor, Jeanette Foxworth of New Orleans, Neff said. Foxworth has been indicted by a federal grand jury in Connecticut on unreleated charges of paying a Connecticut state senator $3,000 to help her win consulting contracts. She has pleaded innocent and faces trial in November, according a spokesman for the U.S. attorney in Connecticut.

Neff said her impending departure has nothing to do with the Project Ocean problems. After five years as CIO, she said, "I am very proud of all the improvements and successful projects that have been instituted under my term as CIO."

Read more about Government IT in Computerworld's Government IT Topic Center.

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