services and transactions to the Web, adding greatly to the complexity of the task.

"Youve got a broader scope and a bigger project. Thats the challenge facing government," said Shirk. "Private industry put in a lot of the plumbing, and is now taking e-initiatives and aligning them to the plumbing. The public sector is, in many cases, where the private sector was about eight years ago."

Thats certainly the case in Richmond, where integrated ERP software is replacing 15-year-old applications. Its an upgrade thats triggering dramatic changes for city workers.

"The biggest thing Ive seen is the empowerment of the users," said Sue Hartman, Richmonds IT director. "They depended on IT and finance to run their reports and support them in their processes. This has truly given the process back to them. They know how to get their information and analyze it. They are much more efficient because of that."

But giving city employees hands-on access to vital information created additional training demands as workers transitioned from mainframe terminals to personal computers, or in some cases began using desktop technology for the first time. Richmonds shift to an ERP package put PCs on about 500 desks throughout the city, up from 150 before the installation.

"We deployed a lot more technology, and we found that we had some people who were computer illiterate," said Finance Director Anna Vega. "That was one of our biggest challenges. Some people soared to the top, and others were stragglers that we really had to work with."

Richmond addressed the issue by taking a "train-the-trainer" approach, said Vega. The city thoroughly educated 40 team leaders, who now provide personal training at all city government locations. Employees also may access multimedia training courses on their desktop PCs.

Government, in particular, benefits from this type of workforce investment, said Frances Schreiner, director of public-sector sales for Solbourne, a Colorado-based systems integrator that is installing Richmonds ERP software. "When you say, 80 percent of my budget is my people, and they are performing my services, they need to accept the change or you cant make it happen," Schreiner said.

Governments reliance on human assets also makes employee self-service applications a cost-effective tool for public agencies, she added. Richmond is implementing SAPs Employee Service System, which allows workers to enroll in benefits programs, change personnel information and view pay stubs via the Web.

On the Map

Beyond meat-and-potatoes finance and payroll applications, Richmond is using ERP to build a foundation for better serving citizens and industry.

One of the most unusual developments is a plant maintenance/work-order system being installed in Richmonds Department of Public Works. The software allows city workers and citizens to electronically report problems such as malfunctioning streetlights or potholes, then track the progress of repairs.

"Citizens themselves can input requests right into the software," Hartman said. "With this new mechanism, even a police officer who works at night and notices a streetlight out can punch it into a handheld PDA device and the information would go into our system and create a work order."

Integration with Richmonds GIS system will link repair and maintenance data to a spatial representation of city assets. "Well have a map-based environment," she said. "Users will pull up a map and drill down to the functional location -- a street, for example -- and call up inventory and look for repairs and work orders. Everything will be driven on a physical location." Parcels of land also will be mapped and coordinated with the ERP software, allowing users to request permits and licenses online through the work-order system, according to the city.

Meanwhile, an electronic purchasing module is making life easier for city employees and suppliers. The system eliminates paper purchasing forms and a cumbersome

Steve Towns, Editor Steve Towns  | 

Steve Towns is the former editor of Government Technology, and former executive editor for e.Republic Inc., publisher of GOVERNING, Government TechnologyPublic CIO and Emergency Management magazines. He has more than 20 years of writing and editing experience at newspapers and magazines, including more than 15 years of covering technology in the state and local government market. Steve now serves as the Deputy Chief Content Officer for e.Republic.