TORONTO — If Canadian public sector IT managers ever find themselves close to despair over the nightmares associated with enterprise resource planning, it’s no easier for their counterparts across the Atlantic.
At a breakfast session called “”The Vision of E-Government”” this week, SAP Canada
welcomed Jon Pittam, treasurer at Hampshire County Council, UK, to provide local officials an inside look at a four-year-old enterprise resource planning (ERP) project its government is completing.
Like many Canadian jurisdictions, Hampshire began investigating ERP and e-procurement as part of its preparations for the Year 2000 problem. Its legacy infrastructure included Hantsnet, an intranet that had been serving about 10,000 users since 1985, and Hantsweb, an extranet accessible to 17,000 employees and about 400 organizations. The SAP project, which will cost Hampshire about $30 million, follows a $41 million project to put Microsoft Office on all its desktops and a $49 million initiative to upgrade its voice and data network through Unisys. The council employs approximately 40,000 users.
Pittam said the government hopes to offset the project costs by reducing duplication of effort and eliminating redundant parts of its processes, like standalone spreadsheets. Those gains might be some time in coming, however. Some of the SAP interfaces have not been able to process certain payroll tasks, like sick leaves for example, which has forced Hampshire to pencil in July 2003 for its complete rollout.
That added about six months to the schedule, Pittam said. “”The problem with a best-in-class solution is that the interfaces don’t always customize to every function you need.””
While Hampshire has focused on the back end of its operation initially — including human resources, finance and purchasing — it eventually wants to improve customer relationship management as well.
Neil Sentance, director of procurement policy for the Ontario government’s IT procurement branch, shares some of Pittam’s goals. Like Hampshire, Ontario wants to develop electronic procurement systems that create efficiencies while maintaining the openness and transparency of its manual processes. But technology raises as many questions as answers, he said. A case in point: Ontario’s desire to offer electronic receipts to suppliers who bid on a particular contract.
“”When is a bid received in the electronic world?”” Sentance asked. “”It’s one thing to walk up to a counter like they do now and it gets time-stamped. We also have to make sure we can ensure the confidentiality in an electronic format.””
IT vendors can consult with government to answer these questions, of course, but Pittam said they sometimes have a tendency to do it “”their way”” instead of the client’s way. “”They have a bottom line and they want to get out,”” he said. “”And they tend to get out when you’re trying to get through with the training and support.””
Pittam said the council wants to offer 100 per cent of its services delivered electronically by 2005.