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