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Texas County's 'Odyssey' Implementation Planned for 2016

Odyssey, a program that stores and communicates data through each step of the civil and criminal process, has been a troublesome IT experience, but now county officials think they have the right recipe.

by Jon Vanderlaan, McClatchy News Service / May 12, 2014

It’s been seven years since Ector County, Texas, purchased the Odyssey program, and it will still be nearly two more years before it reaches its full potential in the county.

The program, which will cost an estimated $1.9 million before all is said and done, has been the most troublesome IT experience for the county since it was purchased in 2007.

It has been praised by County Clerk Linda Haney for the civil side of the court system, but decried by District Clerk Janis Morgan for the perceived problems in transferring criminal cases.

Now, however, county officials think they’ve got the right recipe.

Ernest Pages, a contractor with Sciens Consulting hired by the county to help with the county’s technology, said during an IT plan presentation to commissioners that Odyssey is coming along and will be done by 2016.

“There’s never a project, ever, in the history of mankind from the time they built the pyramids, there’s never been a project that’s perfect,” Pages said. “Our level of confidence is way higher now than seven years ago when they started this thing.”

Odyssey is a courts and justice program developed by Tyler Technologies that stores and communicates data through each step of the civil and criminal process.

And when Pages came to the county in 2011, he said in his May 1 presentation, Odyssey was practically dead.

The county has since had to overhaul its network and upgrade computers in order to get Odyssey to work properly. That’s where the rest of the IT plan comes into play.

Pages pitched the plan as a five-year project, including everything from the structure of the IT department, to the hardware and software. But when you look at the plan as originally pitched and where it is today, it barely looks like the same project.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Dale Childers said he expected they would need to change the plan as it went along, but he still wasn’t ready for how much that would happen.

“I knew it was going to be difficult. I knew we would have to adapt based on new technologies,” Childers said. “But I really had no idea what we were getting into.”

The primary example of adapting on the fly is the county’s change from needing a large data center to computing on the cloud.

The cloud is a figurative term that encompasses computing done off-site instead of information being relayed through county servers in a data center.

As a result of the shift, according to Pages’ report, the county saved more than $1.5 million on data centers.

“We had anticipated having a data center; a very large, very secure data center. And now it’s tiny,” Childers said. “The cloud has become so good and it’s the best way to go.”

Now with a new network and upgraded hardware on both the network and the computers, Childers said the county is finally ready to start implementing Odyssey. Childers said Tyler Technologies has been working on their product as well.

Childers said he had a meeting with the company’s higher-ups a few years ago to iron out the differences.

“We had a come to Jesus meeting,” Childers said. “Both sides admitted we should never have bought Odyssey when we bought it ... and they should have never sold it to us.”

Childers said there had been discussions on whether to drop the software or even sue the company because of how poorly the software worked.

And while both sides have worked to make things better, Childers said Tyler Technologies has helped with the financial side of things, giving some services for free and even giving back some of the county’s money.

Pages said Tyler Technologies also has a new project management policy and they’re going to be implementing the software on the criminal side between now and 2016, starting with an August meeting with the company.

After receiving an original budget of $8,782,705 for the IT plan, Pages said he projects he will come in under budget and spend closer to $7,964,383.

“I’m happy with it coming under budget,” Childers said, “but probably I’m more happy it’s not because we’re cutting corners.”

Both Pages and Childers said they are using the most cutting-edge technology to spend some more to save more in the long run.

Through the rest of the project and beyond, Pages said he anticipates that county spending on IT will level off to just more than $2.1 million per year to continue having the most up-to-date IT for the county.

Pages said it’s like a car – it needs constant maintenance to keep IT running.

“Everything in the county is touched by technology,” Pages said. “Technology is the oil that keeps the wheels of government working.”

©2014 the Odessa American (Odessa, Texas)

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