Dis­trict to look at 2 deals over trou­bled soft­ware project

The Bradenton Herald (Sunday) - - Front Page - BY GIUSEPPE SABELLA gsabella@braden­ton.com

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

The project started with an es­ti­mated cost 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 soft­ware, or ERP project. Board mem­bers also face the de­par­ture of a third ad­min­is­tra­tor, who was sus­pended dur­ing a dis­trict in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the project.

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 $326,000 to cre­ate.

Ron Ci­ranna, Manatee’s for­mer deputy su­per­in­ten­dent of op­er­a­tions; and Robert 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 found in Ciber’s state re­port­ing mod­ule. Fix­ing the soft­ware is a top pri­or­ity, be­cause ac­cu­rate re­ports are key to re­ceiv- ing tens of mil­lions of dol­lars in state fund­ing.

And 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.

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

The two-year agree­ment came to an end, and the school board re­newed its con­tract with Agitech 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, the up­dated con­tract would add to Agitech’s list of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. The com­pany 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.

The IT depart­ment was in des­per­ate need of sup­port. Doug Wag­ner, deputy su­per­in­ten­dent of busi­ness ser­vices and op­er­a­tions, said the of­fice re­cently gained 10 em­ploy­ees.

Kos­mac, the project’s in­terim di­rec­tor, said 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,” Kos­mac said.

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

The dis­trict in­curred sev­eral fines for its in­ac­cu­rate 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 put its ERP trou­bles in the past.

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

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