Audit tracks computer upgrade Changes suggested for county system

By JIM HALEY

Herald Writer

Snohomish County is nearing completion of a project replacing its outdated financial computer system, expected to come in $130,000 below the $1.8 million budget.

But the upgrade, more than seven years in the making, could have benefited from a series of procedural changes recommended by an internal auditor, a report says.

Officials who have been involved in the development of the system point out, however, that any problems with it pale in comparison to those experienced during the development of a larger but similar system in King County.

Officials there are trying to implement a $38 million financial system update that could be more than $10 million over budget when it’s complete next year.

The Snohomish County financial system, sought by the county’s Finance Department, cuts across all levels of county government with such things as budget information, payroll data, accounts payable and other financial accounting information.

The project was started in 1993 to replace an antiquated 1960s version that required employees to enter the same data multiple times, finance director Dan Clements said.

The replacement, which was partly complete in 1997, "puts us in a good position to meet our financial needs for, hopefully, the next 10 years," Clements said.

He said many of the county’s major financial computer programs needed to be upgraded before 2000 because they were not Y2K compliant.

Indeed, a delay in completing the new financial system came in 1998 and 1999 when the county turned its attention to making sure all the computer systems were Y2K compliant.

The county picked SFG Technologies in 1995 to develop and install the system, and "we’re now in the home stretch," said county information systems manger Colin Bottem.

The major missing piece is what’s known as a relational database, which should make it easier to store and retrieve information from multiple departments. It will be installed late this year, Bottem said, about three years late.

Meanwhile, the recently issued report is more of a review of the financial system progress than an actual audit.

Among other things, it recommends:

Quickly finishing this project with the relational database included, and formally accepting the system.

Developing or enhancing training to make sure employees can work the system now and in the future.

Dedicating an experienced computer manager to manage the development process for future large-scale county computer projects. The county also should authorize development of a formal project management policy and procedures manual.

Bottem said he agrees with the 11 recommendations, and is working to implement them all.

Clements said it’s just as important that the county update some of its business practices, some of which will require union approval for payroll changes.

You can call Herald Writer Jim Haley at 425-339-3447 or send e-mail to

haley@heraldnet.com.

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