Legacy Systems Are Impeding Grand Traverse County, Mich.’s Evolution, Officials Say

The county is plotting the course to replace an enterprise resource planning system that has been in place since the 1980s.

by Alexa Zoellner, The Record-Eagle / September 6, 2018
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(TNS) — TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — Like the number of people who can drive a car with a column stick-shift, those who are able to teach others how to use Grand Traverse County’s IT system are dwindling.

Multiple evaluations of the system in the past few years have identified issues related to security, the use of software that no longer is supported by vendors, the need for new network infrastructure and for a new enterprise resource planning system.

The IT system functions and provides the services needed by individual departments, but that’s about it, County Administrator Nate Alger said. It isn’t in a position where any traction is being gained.

“It’s just to the point that the speed of work is being impacted, so we have to move (to newer technology),” he said.

The evaluations — an executive and technical assessment by Trivalent Group Inc. in 2016, a HIPAA security risk assessment by Integrated Systems Consultants in 2017 and a strategic plan put together by IT consultant Paul Knific of Epic Technology Solutions LLC in 2017 — all suggested addressing the ERP system first, said Grand Traverse County IT Director Ming Mays.

A computer platform known as AS400 is the current ERP system and has been in place since the 1980s.

AS400 is what’s used for budgeting, all of human resources, contracting and more, Alger said.

“It’s an old version and an old system, … but we’re so heavily integrated in this, it’s hard to move,” he said. “We’ve been trying to find ways to keep it breathing. It works, it’s just [the younger generations] don’t know how to use this and we can’t keep training people to use it.”

Mays said she would love to have a new ERP but, after going through the assessments, doing walkthroughs of the building and departments served by the IT system — which includes those of Traverse City — and speaking with staff, she determined the first step had to be building a solid foundation.

That means updating the network infrastructure, said Mays, who has held her position since July 2017.

A three-area project ultimately was decided upon to create the foundation.

Area 1 involves replacing firewalls, routers and switches, which Mays refers to as the backbone or skeletal structure of the network infrastructure.

Area 2 will entail installation of a network monitoring tool to watch internal traffic. Area 3 calls for the rewiring of four buildings to upgrade cables allowing for faster connection speeds.

The Grand Traverse County Board of Commissioners during its Aug. 15 meeting approved spending a total of $465,637.50 on the project with $285,242.76 spread out at 0 percent interest through 2022.

“It’s going to take the county to a new level at a very good price,” Alger said.

Mays also said she wants to implement email encryption, have additional training for her staff and improve mobile device management and enterprise this year.

The focus will be on the ERP and cyber security next year, she said.

“I would love to have an ERP, but I need to understand the workflow (in and between departments) before we change to something different,” Mays said. “It’s not something you can just replace overnight.”

Don Sheehan, who held Mays’ position from 1985 to 2016, said the problem is mapping the data currently in the AS400 system to a new system.

“They’re not going to take the programs, only the data,” Sheehan said. “They’ll leave all the old programs behind. The primary thing is making that data fit inside the new system.”

Some vendors refuse to convert the data and say to simply start over so no “garbage” unintentionally is brought along, he said.

“It’s really up to finding a vendor that will take and map the data,” Sheehan said. “It’s completely possible to do it.”

©2018 The Record-Eagle (Traverse City, Mich.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.