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Rhode Island Governor, CIO Call for Investment in ERP Upgrades

According to officials, the state is risking disruptions to operations with its legacy human resources system. Gov. Gina Raimondo has asked legislators to approve the funding to modernize the necessary systems.

Rhode Island Capitol
Rhode Island is in dire need of a new human resources system, according to the state CIO. As it stands, staff use a “patchwork” of legacy systems, specialized applications and paper-based processes to manage things like personnel time sheets, payroll and reimbursement requests. 

The lack of modernization even drew the attention of Gov. Gina Raimondo, who included a suggested investment in an Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system in the capital budget presented to legislators Jan. 16 .

“The State’s existing IT legacy systems are decades old and have been subject to repeated [critical] audit findings, which the Administration wishes to address with a comprehensive enterprise strategic plan,” the budget reads.

The total ERP system ask is $73.7 million to be spread over the next seven fiscal years — averaging about $21 million from 2022 to 2024 and then tapering off to about $3 million for operating costs through 2027, according to a strategic plan presentation provided to Government Technology. CIO Bijay Kumar said this reduces pressure for competing priorities in the operating budget, aligns with national software-as-a-service best practices and is a common approach to break up a large investment over a longer timeframe.

Raimondo’s statement tracks with data compiled by the Center for Digital Government* that found about one-third of major IT systems used by state governments are obsolete. The study behind that figure defined a legacy system as “a business-critical system that was implemented prior to Oct. 25, 2001, and is currently unable to meet user demands.”

A common place to air out problems miring an agency’s operations are audits, and Rhode Island isn’t the only state where auditors have consistently pointed out the need for modernization. After an investigation into Illinois’ financial reporting system in 2011, officials embarked on an effort to replace a disconnected network of 260 individual financial reporting systems. Today, that state’s ERP is on track for a full deployment in 2021 with an approximate $350 million price tag.

While the fate of a Rhode Island ERP system will be determined this legislative session by the General Assembly, leaders in the Department of Administration (DOA) and the Division of Information Technology (DoIT) have laid the foundation to begin work promptly once funding is secured.

Kumar, who also serves as chief data officer for the state, said he and other officials have mapped a 57-month project timeline, which includes an 18-month pre-implementation phase followed by a 39-month deployment. The state is finalizing a detailed approach, called the Enterprise Applications Strategic Plan, with its consulting partner Accenture, Kumar said.

“The lack of an integrated ERP system means employees must manually enter the same data into different systems, which can result in errors and in time-consuming data reconciliation,” Kumar said.

Currently, state employees must submit physical time sheets, forms to process personnel and payroll changes, and expense reimbursement requests. With an ERP, these procedures would be made digital and require less time to complete, reduce redundancies and provide mobile-enabled time and attendance reporting, he said.

As was the case with Illinois, an additional reason to make strides toward implementing an ERP system is the depreciation of institutional knowledge.

“The handful of experts the state relies on to keep the current systems operational are nearing – or already eligible for — retirement,” Kumar said.

It’s almost to a point where DOA risks disruptions to business operations if the challenges posed by legacy systems are not addressed, he said. An ERP system would mirror what IT graduates have encountered in school and would allow Rhode Island to recruit the “next generation of workers.”

If the initial $1.2 million for Fiscal Year 2021 is authorized, DoIT staff will begin gathering requirements, documenting current and future processes, and writing an RFP with the goal of phasing in commercial off-the-shelf software through 2024, Kumar said.

Kumar is hoping this approach and the governor’s support will increase the probability for a green light from the capitol. The Legislature typically approves the state’s budget in June, he said.

*The Center for Digital Government is part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.

Patrick Groves was a staff writer for Government Technology from 2019 to 2020.
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