Government agencies run with business sense

From the pages of In Business magazine.

The first time the state of Wisconsin attempted an enterprise resource planning implementation, there were no success stories. This time, even with a few hiccups, the implementation was completed under budget and ahead of schedule. That would have been unheard of eight years ago, when the project was beset by delays and cost overruns and scrapped until 2011, when the state decided to give it another try.

What made the difference this time? Taking a business approach to executive governance, leadership, and change management was critical. A high level of executive leadership engagement from all of the cabinet agencies and some peer pressure in the form of agency scorecard tracking also kept things on pace.

Known as STAR (State Transforming Agency Resources), it involves the implementation of Oracle’s PeopleSoft modules as a shared services application for state government. With fewer than five customizations — actually minor tweaks, according to state Chief Information Officer David Cagigal — STAR replaces more than 140 legacy systems, aggregates data, and provides greater transparency in finance, procurement, and human resources and payroll. 

Dawn McCauley, director of the STAR Project for the Wisconsin Department of Administration, gets the lion’s share of the credit. She’s been involved with ERP implementations her entire career, including a stint with Maytag. “Our governance structure was critical in the aggressive schedule that we had and getting through all the decisions that had to be made,” she notes. “We logged 182 decisions in our decision log, and each one of those had to go through governance.”

When challenges presented themselves, McCauley was nimble enough to make adjustments. For example, there was a limited period of time for the users to become acclimated to the new system and it wasn’t enough. “When we went through user-acceptance testing, our test scenarios were very limited in scope,” McCauley says. “We were basically testing each piece of the process along the way, and the users were really struggling to understand the full, end-to-end process.”

By adding some extra time into the user acceptance-testing schedule and including some end-to-end walk-throughs, users came away with a higher level of confidence. If the projected savings of $350 million over 10 years is realized, taxpayers will gain more confidence in state government. 

Which brings me to this point: I understand why government agencies can’t be run exactly like a business, but this project proves they can be run with more business sense.

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