After numerous setbacks in getting a $10 million software system up and running, the Tucson Unified School District has decided to put the project on hold.
The software - bought in 2009 - was intended to replace TUSD's error-prone, paper-driven system in the payroll, benefits and human resources departments.
The Web-based Lawson system was touted as being more accurate and ultimately able to save the district money. However, TUSD officials have determined that many of the district's business practices are so inefficient and ineffective that the software wouldn't be usable.
As a result, TUSD will work to correct dozens of its practices before resuming work on getting the new system in, which was originally scheduled for last July.
The new deadline for the system to be operational is now July 2013 or the beginning of 2014.
In addition to a new deadline, the system is also expected to cost the district about $4 million more than expected to get it operational.
"One of the things we've realized that has to be done across the district, is to examine what it is that's going to help make this district efficient and effective," said TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone, who became superintendent in January 2011. "We need to look at what is the source of the issue so we can fix the heart of the system, not simply overcome the problem. I don't think attention was given in the past to the business practices."
One example of ineffective practices is the hiring process, said John Gay, TUSD's chief information officer.
Once the district has determined that it wants to hire a person, the process of bringing that person on board takes about 41 days.
Gay said much of that time is spent in two areas that are not beneficial: The time it takes for paperwork to physically move around the district, and many people checking the work of the person before them to ensure that mistakes are not being made.
"So you have checkers checking the checkers who are checking the checkers, and little value-added work going on in the process," Gay said.
The main problem in the purchase of the software system can be traced back to improper assumptions by the previous district administration when seeking a vendor, said Gay, who joined TUSD in 2010. He said, "It's easy to be critical in hindsight."
"Some assumptions were made about what the product would do and what the district would have to do to successfully implement," he said. "Some of those assumptions were off, and there weren't enough resources put in on the vendor side or the TUSD side. Now we need to make up for that deficit."
Specific issues include:
• More than 140 business processes have been identified for improvement. TUSD has narrowed those down to about two dozen to focus on during the next six months.
• When TUSD originally sought vendors for the project, the district didn't have a good enough understanding of what it needed.
• A key piece of the software - a system for time clocks that would be used for employees to check in and out - could not be used by the district. As a result, the district had to reach a financial settlement with Lawson.
It has since found a new vendor to provide a time-management system that will work, but the contract has yet to be awarded. Though the new contract will be partially funded from the settlement, the cost to the district will be significantly higher.
• The software was purchased when TUSD's technical infrastructure could not support it. With districtwide improvements, that will no longer be a problem by 2013.
• High turnover in project staffing levels. TUSD has since hired a project manager and put together a leadership team to oversee getting the system working.
Though the software system is not fully in place, TUSD has used it in its finance, procurement and asset-management departments, Gay said. Those functions will continue despite the suspension of work.
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Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at firstname.lastname@example.org or 573-4175