September 5, 2008 By Andy Opsahl
Payroll officials in Sacramento, Calif., recently distributed the city's 5,500 paychecks using its Web-based Electronic Citywide Accounting and Payroll System (eCAPS) for the first time. The HR and payroll component of eCAPS succeeded immediately, unlike its finance portion, which debuted last December, said Steve Ferguson, CIO of Sacramento, who is soon to switch to CIO of San Jose, Calif.
"I believe we had an error rate of less than 50 checks that we had to correct," Ferguson said. "That's an unbelievably low error rate for a new payroll system right out of the box in an organization of this size."
The new system eliminates most redundant data entry, enabling staff to approve transactions online rather than on paper, allowing for real-time processing of those transactions. Agencies can view transaction progress online from start to finish.
"The system retains much more detailed information on each transaction for better reporting," Ferguson said.
The HR and payroll component of the rollout benefited from lessons learned after introducing the finance portion. The finance system used a PeopleSoft application requiring drastic changes in long-standing, city business processes. Ferguson said the vendor Sacramento hired to adapt city employees to those processes did a poor job, forcing his team to switch to a city-staffed "change management" effort one month before going live last December.
"The new team didn't have enough time to catch-up before finance went live," Ferguson said. "This didn't happen for the HR/payroll portion of the system."
The city also underestimated the importance of offering reports that extracted information from the new system in ways that employees were accustomed to seeing it, Ferguson explained.
"We went live with finance with very few reports available. The lack of reports frustrated key staff and we had to regroup and develop roughly 20 queries and reports for their use," Ferguson said.
The $22 million system forced city employees to comply with rules that had long been on the books, but which employees were accustomed to breaking.
"The new system enforced controls like having budget available before a requisition would be approved or not being able to issue an accounts payable check without having first issued a purchase order," Ferguson said.
Staff had acclimated to those rules by the time Ferguson rolled out the HR and payroll function.
The city also spent four payroll cycles rehearsing use of eCAPS alongside the normal HR and payroll process prior to going live.
"This gave everyone a chance to try the system out and get used to it," Ferguson said.
"Our experience was probably the cleanest payroll implementation that I've seen in the public sector," he said.