Early Project Management a Key to Successful Moves to Cloud

Carlsbad, Calif.’s IT manager expects HR system’s move to the cloud to be finished later this year. Along the way, lessons were learned.

by / September 28, 2011
Illustration by Tom McKeith

If your government agency is considering a move to the cloud, Bill Baer, Carlsbad, Calif.’s IT manager, has some advice: Get a project manager involved before signing a contract.

Carlsbad began transitioning its human resources system to the cloud in July 2010 and the process should be complete by late November. The project is going slower than anticipated; however, this is due in part to extra work that was thought to be part of the agreement between Carlsbad and its cloud vendor, Lawson Software, according to Baer.

One of the specific issues had to do with system interfaces. Carlsbad’s Human Resources Department favored using a third-party timecard solution called CyberShift over a similar module provided by Lawson. But to get CyberShift to talk to the servers hosted by Lawson in the cloud, Carlsbad — unbeknownst to the city’s IT staff — was on the hook for the interface development.

Outside consultants are commonly hired to head up large projects. But Baer felt that had someone who is experienced with the technical requirements of cloud transition contracts been included in the procurement process from the outset, additional tasks would have been identified earlier and negotiated to make them a part of the vendor’s responsibilities.

“Once the project manager came on board, everything was signed already and he was reviewing things and saying, ‘This doesn’t do this or that.’ So that is one thing we learned,” Baer said, adding that the expertise is necessary “because sometimes we don’t know the exact questions to ask.”

The human resources system is one of the biggest undertakings by Carlsbad’s IT team and involves a lot of staff, which has added to the project’s complexity and created various hurdles.

There are approximately four people from the IT department working on the system, a couple of them almost full time. Finance department staff is also contributing. “The team itself is about 20 people working on this, so it’s been quite the project for some of our people,” Baer said.

Carlsbad’s IT department favored moving the human resources system to the cloud because it’s projected to save resources. Baer said that while the HR department didn’t have a preference whether to keep the system in-house or in the cloud, the IT team was high on the benefits, which include fewer dedicated workers. Had the city kept the human resources system in-house, another staff member likely would have been needed to manage it.

While Baer didn’t have the exact amount of money that the city would save once the cloud-based human resources system is up and running, he said that the savings mostly would come from soft costs such as less staff time required for maintenance. Instead of administrative personnel doing things like payroll and changing tax and benefit forms, those tasks will be self-service — the HR cloud system will allow employees to do it themselves, freeing up staff to work on other tasks.


Cloud Moves Continuing


Carlsbad’s IT staff is no stranger to the cloud, having transitioned its vehicle fleet, library management, City Council documents and other systems. The city’s e-mail is also hosted on the Microsoft Business Productivity Online Standard Suite.

Looking ahead, Carlsbad is about to send out an RFP for a customer relationship management (CRM) system. The implementation will be citywide, so the city’s experience on the human resources system is something Baer thinks will help as the CRM process goes forward, particularly if the system is hosted in the cloud, which is the IT department’s preference.

“The city departments themselves are shocked how long it takes,” Baer said about putting systems in the cloud. He added that Carlsbad has learned many lessons that will aid future implementations.
 

Brian Heaton

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology magazine from 2011 to mid-2015.