Whistler deploys new ERP system to ease burden on IT department

At the height of the ski season, the Resort Municipality of Whistler, B.C.’s streets and slopes explode with almost 10,000 second-home owners and another 20,000 visitors, in addition to the 9,500 permanent residents.

Few, if any, probably know or care about the enterprise software that keeps the town ticking, which is probably a good thing.

Heather Paul, systems manager for the municipality and president of the Agresso North American Users Group, says the town is in the process of moving to the .Net version of the Agresso ERP system it deployed last year. If all goes as planned, the update should take place by December, she said.

Whistler, which employs 435 people, about half of whom are part-time or seasonal, chose Agresso ERP software over three other contenders because it provided the greatest flexibility with the least complexity, said Paul.

“When we first went in search of an enterprise solution, reporting, project tracking, planning, budget analysis and an economically responsible application that was continuing to advance technically were our (greatest) interests,” she says.

Whistler has implemented the general ledger, accounts payable, accounts receivable, inventory and procurement, project costing and billing, and budget manager modules of the software.

One of the biggest benefits the municipality has reaped is that it has relieved the IT department of the burden of maintaining and supporting all the workaround databases and applications various departments had developed to fulfill their reporting requirements.

“With our previous financial solution that was neither intuitive nor easy – end users depended on the financial department and they were always one month in arrears, which made it difficult for supervisors and managers to assess the current position of their accounts relative to their budgets. This, in turn, led to the development of departmental spreadsheets and other databases and their own custom reporting tools,” says Paul.

That was a headache for IT, which ended up having to maintain all that. Using a tool called Excelerator, “Agresso has provided the organization with much improved controls and information to better manage our fiscal responsibility, including knowing how much it costs to operate a park,” Paul says. “People can get (the information) for themselves; staff has much more ownership, and our team members and our front line staff and managers are making more informed decisions regarding the disbursal of our funds, so one of our primary goals has been met.”

Aiding the environment
Whistler is also using less paper, she added, which helps it meet its goal of becoming a sustainable, or eco-friendly, municipality.

“The purchasing and inventory logistics has significantly reduced excess paper copies of invoices in our statements,” Paul said. “That physical copying, distribution, approval and redistribution of invoices has been nearly eliminated using Agresso Web services.”

Agresso has also enabled IT to do project costing and billing in order to manage capital projects spending. That means billable expenses, such as lawyers’ fees, can be billed back to external entities.

But it didn’t choose the vendor based on the claims it made in its RFP. Instead, a team from the municipality went to various other municipalities using Agresso and other ERP software to see how the software really worked in everyday local government life.

“Onsite visits are a great tool,” said Paul. “I recommend it for any company that’s doing a selection phase. When you’re buying a computer you go to the store but you also ask your friends. It’s the same idea. We can do as much research as we want but that onsite seeing it being used in a municipality was very beneficial.”

Henrik Beijar, an account executive with the Norway-based firm, says the Agresso ERP system is designed to handle the requirements of people-centric organizations from both financial and business information management perspectives.

“The way Agresso started was it was in the early 1980s and relational databases were a novel concept,” he says.

Whistler, which will host the alpine, nordic, sliding and Paralympic events as part of the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, will have to undertake a number of construction projects and public works improvements that will have to be tracked, he says.

The capital project and tracking capabilities in the Agresso software will help Whistler with that task, he says.

“It also means they (Whistler) have to be working effectively to meet this very real deadline, so they need to have pertinent information delivered to all budget holders.”

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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