Cook County, Illinois | Implementation Quality Assurance Case Study

Background of Organization:

Cook County is located near the northeastern corner of Illinois and is bordered on the east by Lake Michigan and the State of Indiana. It has a population of more than 5.1 million and is the second most populous county in the nation. Cook County is also the home county of Chicago, the largest city in Illinois and the third largest city in the nation, and 139 other municipalities. In addition, it features a demographically diverse and multi-cultural community within its 956 square miles.

Description of Situation:

The government of Cook County has more than 26,000 employees and an annual budget of more than $2.4 billion. The County's leadership, motivated by the vision of the newly elected County Board President, felt that a new system was needed because:
  • The County's taxpayers were asking the government to do more with fewer resources;
  • The County's managers and elected officials needed access to timely information to design and manage sound public policies;
  • There was a consensus across the County that its legacy systems and existing processes, which were largely based on a combination of older technology and manual processes, were inadequate to support a government of Cook County's size and complexity; and
  • Many of the County's legacy financial applications were based in older computer languages, and technical support was becoming increasingly difficult to find.

In response to the new vision and the pressing needs, the County decided to pursue the procurement of a new Enterprise Resource Planning system (i.e., financial management system). In addition, the County also developed a handful of goals for the new system had to achieve, including:
  • The ability to be flexible and scalable (grow in proportion to the County's needs);
  • The ability to leverage the County's existing investment in technology infrastructure and provide modular software that included out-of-the box functionality and imbedded best business practices in the core functional areas as determined by the County;
  • The ability to be expanded to encompass all of the other major functions of the organization;
  • The ability to use EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) transactions with major trading partners and handle on-line bids for various County purchases; and
  • The ability for County to have both the thin-client and Web-deployed option in the future.

In addition, the County decided that it was important to partner with a software vendor who truly understood the ability of the system and whether it could achieve all of these goals.

GFOA's Solution:

Cook County engaged the GFOA not only to provide assistance with the ERP selection process, but also to provide quality assurance services during implementation. The County chose GFOA because it felt that GFOA was a leading source of information on the application of best business practices to governments and because it felt that GFOA also had a significant amount of leverage with software and implementation partners as a result.

GFOA staffed the project with professionals from previous experience in financial management, information technology, and the public sector who all had experience as both consultants and researchers. After working with the County to select the ERP system, the GFOA continued to work with the County to oversee the implementation process. The new ERP system was implemented in approximately 18 months. Through our work on this project, we have developed a list of five "lessons learned" that a government should review when considering an ERP procurement and implementation:
  1. Leadership Commitment - The senior management of the organization must be visibly committed to the procurement and the implementation. At the kickoff meeting for Cook County, the County Board President emphatically endorsed the project and asked every County participant to do what he or she could to ensure the project's success.
  2. Communication - It is important to get an early project success that can be broadcast throughout the organization. This success, when broadcast, can be used to build the project's momentum and to get employees to think about how their jobs could be done more effectively and more efficiently. Cook County used its monthly employee newsletter to broadcast the status of the project and to boast of the benefits of the new system.
  3. Full-Time Staff - It is very important that an adequate amount of staff resources be committed to the project. A decision to not do so could put the project in serious jeopardy. For some organizations, this may require assigning full-time staff to the project full-time for a defined period of time. For others, this may require allotting a certain percentage of a full-time employee's weekly or monthly time to the project.
  4. Focused Project Management - A steering committee should be established to focus and manage the project. In addition, to defining the project's goals, this leadership team should hold weekly meetings in order to assess the progress of the implementation and how well it is moving towards meeting the established goals. Having these meetings as a part of the project management structure helped the County to implement its entire ERP system in less than two years.
  5. Centralized Installation Approach - A careful and planned deployment to only certain functional areas may be best for your organization. In smaller organizations, this may not be as critical an issue, but in a larger organization like Cook County, it could mean the difference between the perceived success and failure of the project. In Cook County, electronic requisitioning was first used in central purchasing. After this "testing" phase, it was decentralized to the line departments.