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Wisconsin Suspends Shutdown of Aging Computer System

The state will still launch the first phase of a new more comprehensive system on time on July 1, but it will not be the system of record for state operations.

(TNS) — Gov. Scott Walker's administration is delaying for up to three months the shutdown of a patchwork of aging state computer systems as part of a $138.7 million IT project.

Wisconsin will still launch the first phase of a new more comprehensive system on time on July 1, but it will not be the system of record for state operations, and some employees will not begin working with it until they receive more training.

The move, which will cost about $2.5 million to $3.5 million more than expected, will mean that the two systems will have to run parallel to each other until as late as Sept. 30. The decision could shield taxpayers from embarrassing and even more costly errors, and the Walker administration says it can cover the extra costs using saving from earlier work on the massive effort known as State Transforming Agency Resources, or STAR.

The decision comes after a consultant found several problems with STAR. The Seattle, Wash., firm Gartner reported in a memo Monday that Wisconsin needs to do more training for state workers, more testing of whether those employees can use the system as expected, and focus more on communicating with state agencies and listening to their needs.

"Savings within the project already cover these cost increases," Cullen Werwie, a spokesman for the state Department of Administration, said of the delay. "This process will ensure that employees have the training and testing to fully utilize the system moving forward."

For the first time in years, a key legislative committee tasked with overseeing state computer projects has decided to hold a hearing on the high-profile STAR effort, as nonpartisan state auditors advised as early as 2007. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel first reported last year and again last month that the Joint Committee on Information Policy and Technology hadn't met on STAR — or anything else — for years.

After being contacted about the inactive committee in May 2014 by the Journal Sentinel, one of the two co-chairs of the committee, Sen. Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls), said she had a "plan in the works" to set up hearings on STAR, which as of April had cost taxpayers $67 million. The Journal Sentinel has requested an updated spending figure for the project from the administration department.

A year later, Harsdorf and Rep. Kevin Petersen (R-Waupaca), the co-chair of the Joint Committee on Information Policy and Technology, have scheduled that briefing for lawmakers on STAR for Tuesday.

Most state officials agree that the ambitious update to decades-old systems is desperately needed — it has been a decade since the project now referred to as STAR began to forge a single modern solution out of a hopeless assortment of 120 different state systems, ranging from isolated spreadsheets and paper files to obsolete programs.

The first phase of STAR going live in July includes the state's financial and contracting and procurement systems. The second deals with personnel and payroll systems is scheduled for 2017 and will be followed by a third phase dealing with the unique needs of just the state Department of Transportation.

The project is replacing the state's existing programs with Oracle's PeopleSoft product.

If successful, STAR would give taxpayers and elected officials a reliable system that could deliver an estimated $100 million in net savings over a decade through lower maintenance and higher efficiency across all of state government.

But as in past state computer debacles, a failed or further delayed project would leave taxpayers with hefty bills, an IT system lagging far behind those of private-sector companies and no good alternatives.

Six years ago, the STAR project itself was halted by Gov. Jim Doyle's administration after an alarming collapse of savings estimates, a legislative audit and public criticism of the project from its own leader at the time.

The project was dusted off in late 2011 by the Walker administration and then restarted in earnest in June 2013.

©2015 the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.