Government agencies often face a conundrum of big plans and small budgets, and as a result, spend years using outdated business software that potentially limits their efficiency and growth.

There is a way around this.

Collaboration is a growing trend in government's use of technology. By working together, government entities are finding ways to get what they want and stay within their budgets.

The Texas cities of Arlington, Carrollton and Grand Prairie partnered with the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) to implement a Web-based enterprise resource planning (ERP) suite from Lawson, saving the cities time and money.

The participating municipalities are now attempting to make the software suite available to other government entities.

Joining Together
Prior to the Lawson ERP suite, the three cities shared a common platform vendor that notified them that their aging, 20-year-old software would no longer be supported.

When former Arlington CIO Tim Barbee got a quote from the vendor to update the software, the estimate included an entire implementation, and Barbee said he was put off by the high price.

Needing a solution, but not wanting to break the budget, Barbee approached Grand Prairie and Carrollton, which agreed to seek software options with Arlington. The trio went to NCTCOG for an intermediary to manage the process.

"We didn't want any one city running [the project] because that would create the possibility of conflicts of interest," Barbee said. "Our idea was that if we do a shared project, other cities might want to join in after we got it implemented, so we wanted to have an unbiased third party managing the project."

Together, the cities came up with functional requirements and released an RFP. In November 2004, the partnership signed a contract with Lawson, which provided the cities ERP software solutions in three major areas: finance, purchasing and human capital management.

The project was considered a single implementation, and the three cities benefited from the shared cost. The total cost for the project was $8 million, which included hardware, software and services. Through collaboration, Barbee estimated each city paid between 30 percent and 50 percent less than it would have on its own.

"The reality is that none of the cities could have afforded tier-one ERP software had they attempted to purchase and implement independently," he said.

Shared Benefits
There are many mutual benefits involved in collaboration.

Together the cities not only saved money on implementation, but also on back-office support, such as servers, operating systems, databases and costs associated with networking. Now money previously thrown at back-office and administrative functions can be used to build libraries, and better fund police and fire, Barbee said.

"By consolidating the back-end services, they were able to provide support in a much more economical and efficient fashion," said Alex Kaplan, practice director of Government and Education for Lawson.

The ERP suite involves different functional areas, so experts in each of those areas were necessary.

"They were able to share knowledge and information about the best way to configure their system as well as take into account information we provided to them from the outside about best practices," Kaplan said.

Even though some areas strayed from best practices, which caused issues, the project stayed on target for the most part, Barbee said, and the partnership pulled through.

"Since implementation, we've set up monthly meetings between the different functional areas where they can help each other out," he said.

Creating Opportunity
The Lawson ERP suite went live in stages from January 2006 to March 2006. One of the project's goals was to eventually add new users through the Shared Services Center at NCTCOG, whose overall

Sherry Watkins  |  Contributing Writer