Florida School District Reassesses Troubled ERP Project

The implementation of a district-wide enterprise resource planning system in Manatee County started with a budget of just under $10 million in 2016 but has more than doubled in cost, amid technical problems and staff turnover.

by Giuseppe Sabella, The Bradenton Herald / November 13, 2018

(TNS) Late nights, hefty contracts and humming computers are a norm in the Manatee County school district’s School Support Center, where employees are working to fix a troubled software project.

The project started with an estimated budget of $9.8 million in 2016. A recent estimate places the cost at more than $27 million, and the true price tag is becoming more evident each week.

On Tuesday, the school board will consider two agreements related to the enterprise resource planning, or ERP project, along with the departure of a third administrator who had been suspended while officials investigate what went wrong.

Angie Oxley, the project manager, has agreed to an “early separation of employment,” according to the agenda.

The ERP software brings district operations — purchasing, human resources, payroll, benefits and other services — under one umbrella. One function allows the district to submit vital reports to the Florida Department of Education, a module that cost $320,000 to create.

Ron Ciranna, former deputy superintendent for operations for the School District of Manatee County, said an overhaul of the system's software system will require additional time and money.

Ciranna and Rob Malloy, the former head of information technology, authorized Ciber Global to create the module, according to Tuesday’s board agenda.

It said they violated district policy, which requires the school board to approve purchases of $50,000 or more. Ciranna and Malloy are leaving the district amid an internal investigation.

Ciber is responsible for implementing the ERP software, PeopleSoft, and it recently agreed to a 50 percent discount on the state reporting module. The contract for $163,000 is on Tuesday’s agenda.

Meanwhile, a team is still dealing with approximately 11,000 errors connected to state reporting. Fixing the module is a top priority, because accurate reports are key to receiving tens of millions of dollars in state funding.

While the first contract presents an opportunity to save money, the second item on Tuesday’s agenda could more than double spending.

In 2016, the board contracted with Agitech Solutions for a price not to exceed $200,000 per year. Agitech maintains the ERP software, installs needed upgrades and monitors performance.

On April 10, the board increased its maximum spending from $200,000 to $395,000, bringing system testing, development and customization into Agitech’s scope.

The two-year agreement came to an end, leading the school board to renew its contract on Aug. 28.

On Tuesday, the board will decide whether to increase authorized spending from $395,000 per year to $850,000 per year.

If approved, it would add to the company’s list of responsibilities. Agitech would help with Manatee’s state reporting module, and it would replace the district’s current hiring system, Taleo, with PeopleSoft.

The company would also help to simplify the overall system.

“The system is far too complicated for the average person to sit down and use,” said George Kosmac, interim director of ERP business systems, at a recent meeting.

It seems the rising costs are a symptom of poor management, misconduct and bad luck over the last several years. A bankruptcy impacted Ciber in 2017, adding to rampant turnover among the project team.

The program grew far beyond its original scope, and the district failed to back its project with enough resources, according to past reports from the internal auditor.

But the tides may be turning, if Thursday’s meeting of the Audit Committee is any indication.

Kosmac, the project’s interim director, said the IT department recently grew by 10 employees. His team started with 48 significant defects in the ERP software, widdling the number to fewer than 10 by Thursday.

And after nonstop work the night before, he said, the district successfully launched enrollment for employee benefits.

“It’s really tough to find some quiet time, and we work late, too,” Kosmac said.

However, Manatee Technical College is still hindered by defects in the state reporting system.

The district incurred several fines for its late submissions to the Florida Retirement System, and it suffered through a tedious process of manually submitting its quarterly tax return.

Cynthia Saunders, the district’s interim superintendent, said the project was too ambitious.

The district tried to implement 28 features at one time, compared to the University of South Florida, which utilizes about 16 modules.

Now the district is racing to meet deadlines and protect its employees.

“It’s painful, but we’re going to make it,” Saunders said.

©2018 The Bradenton Herald (Bradenton, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.