City Aims for Easy ERP Plan

Indianapolis/Marion County IT execs hope to avoid failures that have hit similar projects.

The combined IT department for Indiana's Marion County and the city of Indianapolis has launched a three-year, $16 million ERP project that it hopes can avoid the failures of similar government efforts in recent years, including ERP implementations in Marin County, Calif. , and Philadelphia .

CIO Glen Baker said the plan to replace ancient mainframe-based back-office applications with Oracle Corp. 's PeopleSoft ERP suite includes multiple steps designed to keep the project focused more tightly on business processes than on technical challenges.

For instance, New York-based systems integrator Zanett Inc. has been hired to deploy the new system so IT workers can "focus on business transformation," Baker said.

IT executives also plan to tap experts from both Oracle and Zanett to help train internal staffers to use the new technologies, said Aaron Hood, ERP project director for the Indianapolis and Marion County Information Services Agency.

He added that city and county planners have spent a good deal of time compiling a list of almost 5,000 business requirements to ensure that the system meets the needs of users.

However, the joint IT shop is also "committed to implementing the products as vanilla as we can" to ease adoption, said Baker. "We have as much opportunity as we need to modify them later."

The PeopleSoft ERP software replaces a bloated homegrown system that still includes separate city and county applications for crucial back-office functions such as payroll, human resources and order management, even though the governments have been operating as a consolidated entity since 1970. City workers have also created hundreds of "shadow systems" based on low-end tools like Microsoft Access and Excel to support some administrative functions, Baker said.

The new ERP system, which will run on a Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5-based HP ProLiant blade server, will use a common data repository to manage financial accounting, procurement, HR and payroll applications.

Ben Pring, an analyst at Gartner Inc., said that efforts to simplify such projects are common among IT operations looking to avoid the cost and complexity of unnecessary customization and unneeded technical features.

Consequently, more organizations are looking to keep their technology requirements as out-of-the-box as possible these days, Pring said, adding, "Customization is becoming the last resort."

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an earlier version that first appeared on

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Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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