City of Ottawa turns to IBM for major SAP systems integration project

The City of Ottawa is in the final stage of pulling together a three-year, $40-million rollout of an integrated business system that brings 12 disparate systems into one.

The “”new”” City of Ottawa was officially created four years ago on Jan. 1, 2001, becoming the fourth-largest city in Canada.

As part of the amalgamation of 11 municipalities, the city had to integrate each organization’s services, technologies and business processes, a project it estimates will save $8 million a year. Payback for the entire integrated system is expected in 2010.

So far, more than 20 outdated computer systems have been decommissioned. All employees are now paid through one payroll system and the city has one consolidated inventory of its property holdings.

“”If you look at the size of the project, on a relative scale this is very significant,”” said Kim Devooght, vice-president of the public sector with IBM Canada. IBM delivered the system under a three-year contract. The system is based on SAP to integrate financial, human resource, asset and work management information into a single repository. Eleven project releases were implemented covering Human Resources, Payroll, Utilities, Public Works and Real Property Asset Management.

“”We identified 20 or 30 amalgamation projects on the technology side,”” said Greg Geddes, chief corporate services officer with the City of Ottawa. “”In some cases we had several products in use and we would choose the one that would best meet the business needs of the new city.””

Sometimes businesses processes had to be changed at the same time. Municipalitiies, for example, had different ways of dealing with snowplowing or grass cutting. “”We had a change management office as part of the project team, and they dealt with the training requirements,”” he said. “”We would identify a group of users that were being brought into the system and we would do process training first and then we would do training on the actual application.””

The city started with more than 50 collective agreements. By the time the amalgamation effort was complete, the city had reduced that number to 13. Once a group of agreements was consolidated, the city would then do the implementation.

Top-down approach

“”This was a top-down driven project and there was a commitment to make sure people got the training,”” said Geddes. “”SAP is not the easiest product to use, especially when you’re trying to put that much functionality into one system — you are going to make some compromises on the way the system works.””

The system supports life-cycle management, as well as the ability to track all of the city’s real estate assets, said Kevin Jones, an associate partner with IBM Business Consulting Services (Canada). “”They needed end-to-end processes horizontally across the organization,”” he said. “”The structuring of it from a release perspective was really the key to this because we were able to then focus on its relative components — if we tried a big bang approach I don’t think the organization could sustain such a large rollout.””

By breaking it down into “”departmentalized”” components, IBM was able to focus on both the design and adoption of the system once it went live, he added. “”I think the biggest challenge was the ability to roll out such a large project that covered every aspect of the organization and find a way to do it that could be sustainable and wasn’t so disruptive to the organization.””

The city’s last major go-live was in June — a payroll conversion of 10,000 employees. It now has a program in place to make any necessary modifications to the system. “”The first nine to 18 months after you do an implementation of a large payroll system, you’re dealing with issues of stabilization,”” said Geddes. In 2005, “”we’re taking a deep breath,”” he says, but the city will also be tying the system into its intranet so people can access information that’s relevant to them.

Tweaking the system will be much easier, however, now that all the systems have been consolidated. “”We replaced 20 to 30 systems — you can imagine the complexity of trying to upgrade all those different products, either in-house or through service contracts,”” he said. “”This has really streamlined the maintenance effort.””

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Vawn Himmelsbach
Vawn Himmelsbach
Is a Toronto-based journalist and regular contributor to IT World Canada's publications.

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