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County hopes for best with MUNIS rollout

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By Bennett Horne

When Los Alamos County rolled out its new, fully integrated computer operating system on July 1, officials were hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

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Since the rollout, though, it’s been fairly smooth sailing.

“There have been, as is the case with any implementation, some minor hiccups,” said Los Alamos County Manager Harry Burgess. “But overall, I’d say it’s gone very well and well above any expectations given the amount of issues we’ve had.”

The county used the Enterprise Resource Planning System (ERPS) for several years before updating to this new system called MUNIS through the vendor Tyler Technologies.

Burgess said there were initial issues where programs in certain departments, like the Community Development Department, for instance, weren’t communicating with the new system. The problem, however, was fixed before the day was over.

“Our next real notable activity was the issuance of payroll and, out of over 700 checks that we write, we did initially have about 10 percent that we had some problems with,” he said, adding that those problems were quickly straightened out.

“They were largely problems with inputting information and not that the program wasn’t working,” he said. “We were still learning how to properly categorize the various inputs to the payroll system. So those were fairly quick corrections.”

Last week, the Department of Public Utilities realized it had a problem with customers in White Rock not receiving their bills, which had been mailed out a couple of weeks earlier.

The billing files were sent from Los Alamos to the vendor in Michigan that prints the bills. The delay came when the vendor had to make changes to its software to accommodate the DPU’s files. The changes were made and the bills were mailed out on Aug. 3.

The county added staff to its customer care center after the initial July 1 rollout in anticipation of a flood of questions from its customers, but soon scaled back its staffing when that flood never happened.

“We started that when we first did the rollout and did not have a lot of feedback or questions and suspended that for a while,” said Burgess. “We had individual staff members back in the lobby again anticipating questions that might come from the billing rollout, but we’ve again suspended that, too, because it went fairly well.”

The rollout of the new system is the culmination of several months of work transitioning out of the old system.

“(Deputy County Manager) Steve Lynne has overseen this project through its entirety,” Burgess said. “He came to me and said, ‘We want to pursue this budget because we want to fix our 20-year-old financial system.’ It’s a daunting task.

We’ve had people working on it for that entire two-year period, but the fruits of our labor have paid off and been demonstrated in the rollout.”

Burgess said the new system reaches deep into each of the county’s departments.

“This program covers accounts payable, invoicing, travel reimbursements, cashiering, our general billing, it incorporates our procurement functions, our warehouse, and it does just the general ledger and budget functions, so it does reach basically every department,” he said. “It includes our (human resources) functions. We are now going to an online application process so we don’t have paper applications anymore. That’s going to facilitate our review and tracking of applications.”

Burgess said one of the best results of the new rollout is that the various systems within the entire program are now working together.

“Workflows overall appear to be operating well,” he said. “As a system-wide improvement I think they’re talking to one another, which should be a better outcome for the whole implementation.”

He added, “It will still be months before we’re going to claim victory by any means because all kinds of things can happen. But today I’m very pleased with the way things have rolled out.”

David Izraelevitz, the county council chair, said he’s been through changeovers like this and realizes it’s not an easy task.

“It’s good how far we’ve gone (since the rollout),” he said. “I’ve been involved in many of these things in my professional career and one of the more difficult issues is that it isn’t just software, you have to re-engineer all your processes because you’re not going to get the efficiencies and interactions unless you really optimize who does what and what steps and so forth are required to do a systematic analysis. And that’s a very painful process.”

He continued, “Just think in our personal lives if we had to write down everything we do, when we do it and how we do it. So I want to commend not just the software people but also the whole staff for having gone through that mental exercise.”