Saskatchewan agency upgrades 70s-era systems

Nothing dates people or things quite like ties to pop culture.

For example, the last time the Saskatchewan Assessment Management Agency (SAMA) updated its back office system the Fonz had yet to jump the shark, but Irwin Blank

says it should be happy days again soon.

SAMA’s managing director, technical standards and policy division, says the system was assembled more than 25 years ago and is about as relevant as a sock hop.

“”It certainly was state of the art back when it was developed in the 70s,”” Blank says, “”but now, in the days of relational databases, we have much higher expectations regarding different assessment models and providing results for inquiries on an almost real-time basis. The system could not handle that.””

The agency responsible for the development of the rules and quality assurance work for property tax assessments in Saskatchewan recently announced it will spend $990,000 on phase one of the Saskatchewan Property Assessment Network (SPAN). The money was part of the provincial government’s budget.

Blank says the goal behind SPAN is to build a system capable of adapting to the changing nature of property assessments. Interest in the cost-based assessment system is waning, he says, while the market-value assessment system becoming more standard. “”We felt that rather than going through a major reprogramming exercise while continuing to hold on to all the limitations of our current COBOL-based mainframe system, the time was right to move forward,”” Blank says.

SPAN has been divided into four phases. The first phase, scheduled to be completed in March 2003, is an evaluation of its business with the help of partners Omaha, Neb.-based Systems Design Inc., Govern Software and CGI Inc. both of Montreal. Systems Designs is doing the integration, Govern is providing the software, while CGI is providing project management and hosting and technical support. By the end of the first phase Blank says he expects to have working prototypes of all the valuation models.

The last three steps in the project involve the converting and migrating all the data. Blank says he hopes to flip the switch in March 2005 and have a more flexible and responsive system.

The decision to go with off-the-shelf product as opposed to building one was based on economics. “”It’s a lower risk approach in terms of these projects. It will allow us to have a lot better sense that we will stay within time and budget constraints on this than the custom builds,”” Blank says.

Allain Richard, director business development for Govern, says the customization shouldn’t be terribly difficult because of the nature of the software. It isn’t re-writing source code.

“”We have a lot of customization tools build directly within the software that allows us to do a lot of customizations on the fly. Adding screens, renaming labels, or adding tabs — all those tools are built right into Govern for Windows,”” Richard says.

Comment: [email protected]

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