West Virginia state government has been inefficient and poorly managed for years -- as the Charleston Daily Mail reported, the state operated 118 different systems for accounting, bill paying and payroll functions within its different agencies and commissions. Not only that, but nearly every agency had its own business applications for invoices, leave statements, time sheets and other processes.
Further, a 2009 audit revealed that no one could determine how many vehicles the state owned (though the issue was fixed a few years later); and a 2011 audit showed that the state's Department of Environmental Protection couldn't accurately track its nearly $19 million budget.
“The inefficiency associated with the multiple and disparate systems is tremendous,” Kyle Schafer, the state’s chief technology officer at the time, told the Daily Mail in 2009.
But that's all changing, thanks to West Virginia's "Our Advanced Solution with Integrated Systems" -- or wvOASIS -- system. And this week, the state rolled out the third and largest of the project's five phases. This phase -- phase C -- is the core finance and procurement activities, the Daily Mail reported, including general ledger, accounts receivable and payable, project accounting, inventory and more.
This implementation is not likely to occur without hiccups, however. Though state employees have spent months training -- more than 1,900 state employees have attended seminars to prepare, according to the Charleston Gazette -- they're expected to struggle with the switchover.
The Gazette also reported that the group overseeing the overhaul warned Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin’s cabinet secretaries about many possible problems: “bottlenecks,” “errors in processing transactions,” and “confusion and frustration,” according to a PowerPoint presentation, which also noted that state agency administrators should expect “lower productivity” from state employees and delays to “execute business processes.”
“Regardless of the training efforts and preparation for the transition to wvOASIS, there will be resistance, anger and frustration to change by some,” Lisa Comer, who leads the project’s Enterprise Readiness Team, told the Gazette. “We also anticipate some end users [state employees and vendors] may not have the access they need for various reasons.”
To address the problems, wvOASIS has a help desk with technical experts standing by to answer questions; state employees will receive further training as needed; and training manuals and videos are being posted online, along with simulations that provide additional assistance for 20 of the most frequently used steps in the system.
Also of issue is the fact that the new system provides significantly less access to state spending information for the foreseeable future, according to the Charleston Daily Mail, which noted that wvtransparency.org provided extensive information on spending by each state agency. But the site stopped receiving new data when the legacy system was replaced by wvOASIS on July 1, and though a press release says a new website is expected to launch in “coming months,” no specific timeline is given.
Lisa Comer, head of West Virginia’s Enterprise Readiness Team, told the Daily Mail that the site is part of Phase C, but it will be a delayed rollout of Phase C. “We just didn’t have the information in the OASIS system obviously until we went live with it," she said, "and we couldn’t get data into the system to be able to work with to finish developing.”
Moving forward, phases D and E are scheduled for January and July 2015 rollouts, respectively. When all is said and done, the state will have spent $110 million on the system -- which, as the Daily Mail notes, is cheaper in the long run than operating multiple disparate, redundant, non-connected, error-prone homemade systems that don’t communicate.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 12:15 p.m. on July 24, 2014, to remove an unverified statistic that it it costs West Virginia government about $34 to process each invoice, compared to $9 for other states and $1.50 for the private sector, and to include links back to sources that discuss audits in 2009 and 2011.