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Government's New Financial System Still Fraught With Problems

March 6, 2007 — The new administration's financial team came before the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday in the first day of a two-day hearing to bring the Senate up to date on the territory's fiscal status and the government's new financial management system, which still isn't fully implemented.
The highly touted system — the Enterprise Resource Planning System (ERPS), which was scheduled to be up and running last October at the start of fiscal year 2007 — was the first item on a packed agenda.
The system, which will cost $4.5 million, replaces the old financial management system that's been in use since 1988. A team of people from several government agencies picked the software company Tyler/Munis for several reasons, then Finance Commissioner Bernice Turnbull said last January.
She said that the company's system was user friendly and that Tyler/Munis had more than 27 years experience working with municipal and state governments.
The senators on Tuesday learned that the system is still not fully operational and has been fraught with problems since its inception, most recently being held accountable for vendors not receiving checks around the holidays and for other government department delays (See "Government's New Finance System Could Be the Grinch that Steals Christmas").
The new software (ERPS) is to bring together the government's general ledger, accounts receivable, human resources, payroll, budgeting, reconciliation and tax functions.
Nathan Simmonds, director of the governor's Office of Fiscal and Economic Recovery (the same post he held in the Turnbull administration), said Tuesday that the system is still being implemented.
He said the first phase of the system, currently under operation, includes the "optimization of the component systems of the general financials." The project is in its "final steps of ensuring all known balances are properly reflected on the system," he said.
Other members of the financial team include Austin Nibbs, acting Finance Commissioner; Debra Gottlieb, acting Office of Management and Budget director; Gizette Canegata-Thomas, acting Bureau of Internal Revenue director; Jessica Gallivan, Chief Labor Negotiator designee; Lauritz Mills, Bureau of Economic Research director; and Cherrie Wallace-Cole, Public Finance Authority acting Finance and Administration director.
Simmonds said that the government — under the direction of Nibbs and acting Property and Procurement Commissioner Lynn A. Millin — "has taken the ownership for key ERP processes."
He discussed some previous glitches, noting that the complexities of converting fund balances were "known issues." He added, "the project team encountered exceptions and unexpected issues more often than anticipated."
The second phase of the implementation will focus on fixed assets, work orders and job costing. This phase is being evaluated for an appropriate start date based on availability of staff.
The third phase, originally scheduled to come online in June 2007, addresses payroll and human resource functions. Simmonds said Tuesday that the executive team, which oversees the new system, is evaluating a July 1 implementation date.
Simmonds said the availability and use of an integrated governmentwide infrastructure to support the new system "continues to be an issue."
When Finance Committee Chairman Sen. Terrence Nelson asked how many government agencies or departments are fully using the system now, Simmonds declined to give a direct answer.
He said, "The availability is there. ERP is used by all agencies, but some may lack equipment."
Senators asked about the turnaround time for vendor payments, and what would be a timely figure. Simmonds said, "If the departments do what they are supposed to do, [it should be] within 10 days." He added, "I don't want to point fingers."
Simmonds described ongoing training on the system. One-on-one sessions are scheduled on St. Thomas and St. Croix through the end of March. Departmental-specific training is also scheduled in March for the departments of Education, Finance, Health, Human Services, Labor, the Office of Management and Budget, and Property and Procurement.
He said a specific course for commissioners is scheduled for March 14 and 16. The training will provide an overview of the ERP system, account inquiry and reporting.
Simmonds also said that St. Croix is lagging behind in the implementation because of "technology issues."
This news did not go over well with the St. Croix senators, who asked Simmonds what the problems specifically were. Simmonds replied that St. Croix is a "little different" and that the executive team was monitoring the issues and developing contingency plans.
The meeting will reconvene Wednesday at 10 a.m.
Committee members Liston Davis, Carlton Dowe, Neville James, Nelson, Ronald Russell, Juan Figueroa-Serville and James Weber III attended the meeting, along with nonmembers Sens. Louis Hill and Basil Ottley.
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