Bend is ready for software upgrade

Employees say 20-year-old system is inefficient

By Hillary Borrud / The Bulletin / @hborrud

Published Jul 25, 2014 at 12:01AM

The city of Bend is poised to take a huge technological leap from the era of keywords and keyboards to mice and graphical interfaces.

Department of Information Technology employees plan to purchase new multimillion dollar software to replace an outdated system involved in everything from cutting employee paychecks to the look of residents’ utility bills.

Budget cuts prompted the city to put off replacing its existing business management software, which is now approximately 20 years old. City IT Manager Randy James said Wednesday that learning to use the old software can be a challenge for new city employees who are used to clicking on icons in applications on their smartphones and personal computers.

“You have to get up to speed with moving away from the mouse-based navigation to more keyboard,” James said. “So there’s a significant hurdle, particularly for folks that never got used to using that.”

The city has not negotiated a contract for the software, but James said he expects “this is a several-million-dollar project.”

Community Development Department, Municipal Court and vehicle maintenance workers all routinely use the software. James described the applications involved as the “core operational software for the city,” which employees use to input, store and manage data.

Last month, City Manager Eric King said the old software is a major source of frustration for many employees, particularly because they need good technology to keep up with the workload since the city reduced its workforce during the recession. “There’s that mounting frustration of technology becoming a barrier,” King said. “As we’ve slimmed down as a workforce, people are more reliant on technology.”

Brooks Slyter, accounting and financial reporting manager, said Wednesday the old software simply is “not modern ... . It looks like the 1980s DOS, the black screen with green letters.”

The old software also has practical impacts on productivity. For example, employees in the Finance Department currently have to email other employees to obtain approval to pay invoices, Slyter said. Newer software exists that would allow employees to sign off on invoices electronically.

“There’s many, many efficiencies that will be able to come from a new system,” Slyter said.

The city’s particular version of software dates to the mid-1990s, something that James said is not unusual for cities in Oregon. In Bend, employees determined they needed new software at the same time the recession hit, so they had to delay the purchase.

The city is working to select a software vendor by Tuesday. Once the city negotiates a contract, it will go to the City Council for a vote. James said he hopes to begin implementing the software by the end of this year, but it will take until 2016 or 2017 for all the affected city departments to transition to the new package. The process will include designing new business processes around the software — the way the employees collect and enter data — as well as transferring old data and training employees. The Finance Department alone probably would take at least a year to transition onto the new software, and the changeover will include re-evaluating things such as how city utility bills should look, James said.

— Reporter: 541-617-7829, hborrud@bendbulletin.com