In the beginning, Missouri set out to buy new budget preparation software. But before long, the state had embarked on a much more ambitious project -- replacing all of its financial management and human resources applications with a single, integrated system.

The migration to an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is often fraught with peril. For Missouri, the cooperation of dozens of employees from throughout the state government went a long way toward easing the passage.

Missouri started considering ERP because a study revealed that a new budget system alone wouldn't meet its needs. No matter how excellent a system it chose, the application wouldn't function as required because the state's other financial systems, all 20 years old or more, couldn't send it data, said James Carder, director of the Division of Accounting in the state's Office of Administration (OA). Beyond that, agency employees were complaining about the state's antiquated financial technology.

Getting information from the old systems meant waiting for the printed reports the OA distributed each month. But, sometimes state workers needed data not covered in a regular printout. "We'd have to write the program to do the query and pull the report, then print it and send it back," said Jan Heckemeyer, administrator of Statewide Advantage for Missouri (SAM) II, the state's new ERP system. "You were talking about weeks, or months, just to get a simple report, in some cases."

To give them faster access to their own data, many agencies developed separate financial systems for internal use, she said. Such redundancy did not promote efficiency.

Pre-Buzz Word

"We came to the conclusion that if we were going to spend any money at all, it wouldn't do us any good to replace just a piece of our overall financial planning systems," Carder said. "I don't think ERP was even a buzz word when we reached that conclusion. But as it turns out, what we envisioned was the ERP approach."

That vision spurred Missouri to implement one of the largest government ERP systems operating today. The finance, budgeting and purchasing functions within SAM II serve 6,000 end users, and its human resources and payroll modules serve 9,000.

Missouri brought the financial functions online in July 1999 and completed the human resources side of the project in June of last year. One of the most important keys to success for the implementation was that all state agencies had a say in the project from its earliest stages.

Developing a strategic plan and bringing all stakeholders on board are crucial early steps in implementing ERP, said Ken Munson, senior principal in the State and Local Solutions Division of AMS Inc., Missouri's ERP vendor. "The plan has to be well communicated and well bought in, not just by the different branches of government, but by all levels of each of the branches," he said.

The OA pulled together about 120 volunteers, drawn from throughout the government, to do preliminary planning. The group gathered information from potential vendors and drew up requirements to serve as both a planning document and the core of Missouri's request for proposals. The state awarded a contract to AMS in April 1997.

The planning team worked so well, OA decided to tap state agencies for members of the steering committee that oversaw the project, Carder said. Beyond that, it recruited agency personnel to work with people from OA and AMS on the implementation team. About 50 state employees, many from outside OA, took leaves from their regular jobs to work full time on the project.

Involving "the best and the brightest in the state agencies" ensured SAM II would address everyone's concerns, Heckemeyer said. It also gave each agency one or more resident experts when it came time to start using the new system.

Merrill Douglas  |  Contributing Writer