Village's Management Information System Needs Update to Communicate
Outsourcing, uniform software, overhaul of complete system a little at a time or all at once are options.
The Village of Lake Zurich is grappling with what many municipalities have dealt with in recent years; bringing its aging Management Information Systems (MIS) up-to-date.
"We need to take a look at the whole picture; we have departments that are not able to communicate with one another in the current system," said Al Zochowski, finance director.
An example of how disjointed the communication network is would be the issuing of a parking ticket by the police department.
With the current system, the police load the ticket into a separate database which isn't connected to the village database.
Village staff only become aware of the ticket when an individual pays the fine at Village Hall. Then village staff has to communicate back to the police department to report the ticket was indeed paid.
Only then can the clerk record the ticket as a receivable for the village. Ideally, the clerk should be aware of the ticket when it's first issued to make sure there's follow-up to ensure it's paid.
Zochowski said all of this additional communication could be eliminated if the village had a system that tied into every department.
Questions about the information management system came about when four trustees; Jeff Halen, Rich Sustich, Tom Poynton and Jonathan Sprawka requested a more detailed budget report be provided to the board.
"I was interested in the ability to customize certain sections of the budget," said Halen.
The trustees wanted to see an additional column in the budget showing the original budget numbers and a separate column for current budget numbers so that they are able to analyze any changes, said Zochowski.
"While the solution to this situation would appear to be very simple, it is not as simple as it might seem," said Zochowski.
Significant changes to the database would need to be made to provide such reports, and more strain would be put on human resources to put those changes in place, Zochowski said.
There are a couple of different options that can be considered to make the system more functional, said Zochowski.
"I have learned that industry leaders have moved to a terminal based system and away from PC Network systems," said Zochowski.
The terminal based system would open up connections between different departments when vital information that needs to be shared, can be.
Benefits of the terminal based system are they can be up to 53 percent less expensive than the PC Network, Zochowski said.
Licensing software also costs less, equipment has a longer life span and the number of services to operate the system are significantly reduced, said Zochowski.
The initial investment is considerable though; the first year cost would be $300,000, with $50,000 more to upgrade the wireless system in the village.
The wireless system upgrade would need to be done sooner than later whatever decisions are made on how to handle the village's information technology (IT) needs, Zochowski said.
The second and third year costs will be $85,000 annually and after that the price tag would be around $65,000 a year, Zochowski said.
The other and initially less expensive option would be to continue to upgrade the system separately and little by little, which would continue the lack of connectedness the village often deals with.
He added that there are currently 15 different software packages being used throughout the village.
Zochowksi has suggested that the request for qualifications (RFQ) go out so that the village can look into maximizing the use of technology with a comprehensive plan to be more cost efficient in the long run.
The RFQ is a list of requirements by the village that the information technology consultant would need to have experience handling. Zochowski said they will be focusing on companies who have special knowledge in government infrastructure issues and improvements.
"We should look at the entire infrastructure instead of a piecemeal upgrade to the system, which was done in past years, and has yet to bring the village's IT infrastructure to a place where it is working effectively," Zochowski added.
Zochowski asked, "Should we move forward with changing the current system to provide a report that truly isn't significant in light of other documentation that is available?"
"We are looking into outsourcing the MIS function of government, but it doesn't mean everything will be outsourced, it will depend on what makes sense for this village," said Bob Vitas, village administrator.
"If we can do things better, we'd better take a look. Right now, anything that can save us time, money and resources is what these next couple of years will be all about," Vitas added.
Vitas said the costs associated with any type of technology modification are not eligible to be covered by funds from the non-home rule sales tax referendum approved in November.
So if any changes are made, the money will have to come from somewhere else. And where those funds would come from has yet to be determined.
Zochowski said he is hoping to have the RFQ out in the middle of February, and is also working on the capital projects plan, the budget and is putting together a business plan for the village's strategic plan.
He says all of those projects are resulting from the village's efforts to become more efficient.
Once technology firms have responded to the RFQ and expressed interest, the issue will come before the board of trustees.
Zochowski said the questions are simple.
"Would time be better spent making changes to the entire IT infrastructure rather than doing it piecemeal? What is it we need and what should we be doing?"