El Paso hitches HR to Web

The city of El Paso, Texas, encumbered by a 30-year-old mainframe system, is implementing a Web-hosted solution for its financial, budgeting, pension and human resources/payroll functions.

In September 2001, the city (www.ci.el-paso.tx.us), which has about 6,000 employees, went live with the financial and human resources/payroll segments, using PeopleSoft Inc. as its application service provider (ASP). By the fall, city officials plan to implement the remaining software modules.

Bill Chapman, the city's chief financial officer, said the old system was inefficient and limited in its reporting capabilities. For example, Chapman said payroll entries used to be done manually, but now all employees clock in and out by swiping a card through an electronic system.

Chapman said the new software applications provide better reporting and management tools, more accountability and better tracking of services. For example, the software offers the ability to track the costs of city services, such as issuing a purchase order. The hosted service also saves the city the trouble of hiring and retaining information technology professionals, Chapman said.

Four years ago, the city — which has a population of 600,000 and is located at the westernmost point of Texas near the border with Mexico — was on track to overhaul its system, Chapman said. Another vendor was awarded the contract, but at the time the city council deemed the project too expensive and discontinued it.

New governmental accounting standards were enacted for 2002, and Chapman said the existing system wouldn't have been able to handle the changes. So the bidding process began again, and the city awarded the contract to PeopleSoft. The company took six months to implement the first phase of the system.

"We wanted to go as plain vanilla as possible without a lot of modifications," Chapman said. The city pays a monthly fee, which Chapman declined to disclose.

By using a Web-hosted service, governments are spared the hassle of upgrading their hardware and software, can see reductions in maintenance and licensing costs, and don't have to worry about data security and integrity, according to Kimberley Williams, PeopleSoft's director of strategy and marketing for education and government.

Governments have been slow to adopt ASP models mainly because of security concerns, but she said those concerns have been addressed and security is much more robust now than before.

Williams said several higher education institutions are "jumping on the bandwagon." She said those institutions tend to be more forward-looking than are governments, which take more of a wait-and-see attitude.

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