Implementing an enterprise solution takes cash - often lots of it - that government budgets can't always afford. And even when they can, it's common for hefty price tags to stretch budgets thin.
Imagine officials' frustration when they decide to deploy enterprise resource planning (ERP) solutions - those nifty programs that integrate department functions across a company or municipality into one system that addresses all the departments' needs. If a system can tackle finance, human resources, work orders and other tasks by itself, it probably doesn't come cheap.
What are Texas leaders in small to mid-sized municipalities to do if they have cost savings and technology renovation on the brain?
They might want to give the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) a call. NCTCOG is an association of local governments that work together to secure opportunities that would typically be harder and costlier to acquire individually. The group has a history of making affordable software possible for governments through shared services delivery.
In April 2008, NCTCOG made Software Plus Services (S+S), a subscription-based solution, available to public entities thanks to a partnership with Tectura Corp. The solution provides ERP functionality - human resources, payroll, financial, procurement, work order management, permitting and utility billing - using a software-as-a-service (SaaS) approach. But users still have the option to purchase software licenses.
"We wanted to give the option because a lot of times the initial cost of getting into an ERP-type system is just too much, especially for smaller entities," said Tim Barbee, director of research and information services for NCTCOG. "We decided to offer an option, and it really is an option. You can do it either way."
SaaS is a method of application delivery where the software is hosted on the Web by a vendor or third party and provided to users. These users pay subscription rates to use the software, but they don't own it.
The council issued an RFP on Oct. 20, 2006, to find a vendor that could provide an integrated suite of governmental software applications. NCTCOG wanted a company that could deliver a shared services solution, including implementation services and ongoing support. The council chose Tectura, a vendor specializing in ERP delivery and customer relationship management (CRM) offerings from other providers, including technology powerhouse Microsoft.
"It's a combination of multiple systems. It's not a single system that we're talking about here," said Mick Maguire, research and information services program manager of NCTCOG. "It's really a new model, for all intents and purposes. It follows a best-of-breed concept where we go and get the best tool we can find to perform the task that still allows us to break it up. We really are trying something out here that is kind of a new concept as far as how the software packages are available and how they'll be implemented."
The Tectura package combines programs from Microsoft, StarGarden and Cogsdale. The Microsoft Dynamics line is a collection of integrated software modules that communicate easily with standard Microsoft applications found on most PCs. They cover a range of areas, including financial, CRM and supply chain functionality. StarGarden provides human resources, payroll and scheduling functions, and Cogsdale provides billing, permitting, work order and other utility arena solutions.
"This contract allows constituent cities and municipalities the opportunity to procure software and services off the NCTCOG contract with Tectura, thereby saving the expensive and time-consuming RFP process," said John McKeague, Microsoft Dynamics CRM practice lead at Tectura. "Second, the contract allows constituent cities and municipalities the opportunity to procure software and services under a monthly subscription model - or the traditional perpetual model as well - thereby alleviating many of the upfront budgeting challenges we have seen in the past."