State abandons accounting system

Citing high implementation and maintenance costs, Delaware Gov. Ruth Ann Minner recently pulled the plug on a multimillion-dollar statewide accounting and purchasing software project that had been in development for more than three years.

State officials estimated that they would need to spend at least $7 million on top of the $7.4 million already spent on developing the Automated System for Accounting and Purchasing, or ASAP. They said that an additional $2 million would be needed each year to continually upgrade the customized system, which apparently doesn't conform to accounting standards that have changed since the project was begun.

The state's technology department and IIT Research Institute, an information technology consultant, both recommended scrapping the project.

Thomas Jarrett, the state's chief information officer, said it didn't make sense to invest more money in a project that may or may not be usable. State resources are already stretched, and developing two major enterprise resource planning projects at the same time posed a problem, Jarrett said. Besides ASAP, the state last summer implemented a statewide payroll system, which is still being developed in conjunction with PeopleSoft Inc.

"It was clearly time to stop and say we've got to step away from this," he said of the ASAP system, which was being developed by SAP America Inc.

Jarrett, who assumed the state's newly created cabinet-level CIO position in September, said Delaware officials will pursue implementing a statewide accounting and purchasing system, but will first look at what went wrong before taking steps.

He said they would consider all alternatives, such as implementing a PeopleSoft accounting module, as well as examining ways to fund the project — whether through state appropriations or sharing costs with an IT company. "Everything's on the table," he said.

One thing that will change is how the state conducts project management. Jarrett heads the state's new Department of Technology and Information (www.state.de.us/ois), which was created in the summer of 2001 and replaces the Office of Information Services.

"One of the new focuses of this department is to look at these kinds of projects and give my boss, the governor, a clear indication of whether we should be doing new projects or continue existing ones," he said.

He said it's important to pick a system that drives changes in state agencies' business practices rather than customizing the system to fit the different practices of a multitude of users. That also means providing users with support and training for a new system rather than just imposing it on them, he said.

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