Treasury system ushers Maine online

With all that's typically at stake in the design and implementation of a

new e-commerce infrastructure, there's a natural temptation to build small,

limiting risks by doing piecemeal projects on a per-agency or per-function

basis. The timid approach just doesn't work, though, when statewide financial

functions such as electronic collections and disbursements are involved.

The value of thinking big when developing e-commerce projects has been

amply demonstrated in Maine during the past year and a half, during which

time the Office of the State Treasurer has converted the state's cash receipt

system from a laborious paper-based duplicate entry process to a streamlined,

electronic data management system.

The resulting infrastructure strikes a careful balance between the demands

imposed by existing agency culture, the bank charged with handling the state's

funds, and the desires of the treasurer and controller for a smooth merge

onto the e-commerce superhighway. Dubbed the Treasury Automated Management

Information (TAMI) system, the project will enable the receipt of electronic

payments while also giving each agency an opportunity to keep better track

of its own transactions.

A key component of the TAMI system is the electronic cash book form

and database that each agency will use to process payments, whether they

are electronic funds transfers, credit card payments, automated clearinghouse

or wire transfers. Each payment and its transaction information will be

assigned a unique transaction number (UTN), which accompanies the transfer

of funds to the bank.

"We tried to make sure that the cash book form would be useful to each

agency," said Dale McCormick, Maine state treasurer. "We left several fields

blank on the form so each department could program them any way they'd like.

We need their cooperation in adding the UTN correctly so we can uniquely

identify each deposit, and we're hoping that giving them the ability to

use those extra fields will give each agency an extra incentive to fill

out the form carefully and correctly."

In addition to eliminating duplicate data entry at the agency level, the

TAMI system also puts the necessary infrastructure in place for the smooth

transfer of data from agencies to the treasurer's office and the bank. Then

the data moves on to the controller's office, where the information is entered

into the Maine Financial and Administrative Statewide Information System

(MFASIS).

The electronic data flow enables the treasurer to automatically reconcile

with the bank as soon as electronic payments are received. It also allows

the controller's office to keep a closer eye on the state's accounts, closing

the gap between the amount of funds displayed in the MFASIS and the amount

the state actually has in the bank by placing financial reporting on a real-time

basis.

Cutting across such a variety of departments, functions and established

procedures was a daunting task, McCormick said. "You have to lower the

borders between departments because all these kinds of projects are systemic,"

she said.

Ironically, because the treasurer's office is spearheading the project,

the biggest challenge that TAMI has faced so far was who would pay for it — and how. Because Maine's Bureau of Information Services operates on a

fee-for-service basis, there was some confusion as to how the costs of the

program could be allocated among the various departments that would be responsible

for designing and implementing the system.

"It would have been so much easier if my office had been able to pay

for this project on its own," McCormick said. "The fee-for-service model

really creates a lot of difficulties. I think it would be better to have

a fully funded IT department, funded by appropriation, with an executive

board to decide the priority of various projects." The problem of how to

divide up the costs was largely solved when the banking services contract

entered the request for proposal stage, since the arrangement with the bank

is solely a function of the treasury. People's Heritage Bank was awarded

the contract and has worked closely with the state to launch the first full-fledged

pilots for the program this summer.

Although the ultimate test of the "big picture" approach will come with

the launch of the multi-agency pilots, a prototype system has fared well

in a trial run within the treasurer's office, bettering the odds that the

approach will work on a wider scale as well.

"We realized that we could do this project very small and reap small

gains, or do it across departmental lines and have it benefit everyone,"

McCormick said. "Our experience has taught us to think big and to not be

afraid to pull in as many people as possible from other departments throughout

the state."

— Walsh is a freelance writer based in Peekskill, N.Y.

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