State hires new contractor to complete long-delayed software upgrade

More than a year after the collapse of its last attempt to replace the state’s outdated human resource management software, the state of Maine has quietly chosen a new company to try to finally bring the system online.

Accenture, a global consulting powerhouse incorporated in Ireland for tax reasons, was tentatively awarded a $10.9 million contract in February to implement the long-delayed system to manage all payroll, vacation, taxes, health care and retirement benefits for 12,000 state employees. The terms of the contract are still being negotiated.

“We hope that the combination of a new system (implementer), internal changes to the department’s processes, and an independent third-party validation provider will allow the department to move forward with the implementation of the Workday product and result in an updated system that better serves the needs of the state,” Anya Trundy, spokeswoman for the Department of Administrative and Financial Services said in an email.

The state has already spent at least $35 million over the past six years and two governorships with little or nothing to show for it except a partially functioning system that has yet to come online. The department estimated a year ago that delivering a fully functional system would cost $55 million, more than four times what was projected when Gov. Paul LePage’s administration launched the replacement effort in 2016. .

Accenture’s immediate predecessor, Workday Professional Solutions, is locked in a $22 million contract dispute with the state after a months-long standoff over how to complete the project, which ended in the layoff of the company by Administrative and Financial Services Commissioner Kirsten Figueroa in February 2021. The department declined to provide an update on the dispute Friday because it is “an ongoing legal matter.”

State officials said Workday had failed to deliver a workable system, but a year-ago investigation by the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram found a series of problems on the side of the state are largely responsible for the collapse of the project.

INVESTIGATION REVEALED PROBLEMS

Kirsten Figueroa, Commissioner of the Department of Administrative and Financial Services. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Inexperienced and unskilled people were running the complex project for the state on several levels, according to the state contractors. The payroll data imported from the old system was faulty. A state official had been accused of harassing both state and Workday personnel. The work environment became so toxic that project workers would come out to cry or sit silently in their cars, former contractors reported. When the Department of Administrative and Financial Services decided to bring in a new in-house project manager to save the struggling project, it hired Figueroa’s husband, Doug Birgfeld, a legal move under the company’s nepotism laws. state, but which government ethics experts say should have been avoided.

Meanwhile, the state’s 12,000 employees continue to rely on an outdated software system that Figueroa described years ago as “being held together with tape and paperclips.” The only remaining employee adept at the archaic COBOL computer language used by the 40-year-old legacy system plans to retire on April 1 next year. The department said on Friday there was no timetable in place yet for bringing the new system online – which will use state-purchased Workday software.

“I indicated that I would stay if they needed me,” the last full-time COBOL programmer, Bob Sipe, told the Press Herald. “I would rather get out and do something different, but I have almost 14 years in the Maine retirement (pension) system, so I want it to work successfully while I’m retired.”

Sipe said that over the past year, frontline staff like him have heard very little about the department’s plans to get Workday software systems up and running. “They’ve been very tight-lipped about what’s going on,” Sipe said in an interview in late April, when he hadn’t been told the state had selected Accenture as its new implementation consultant two months earlier. “They don’t talk about it and nobody seems to know what’s going on.”

‘A SENSE OF URGENCY’

Trundy, the administrative and financial services spokesman, said Friday that the department “still feels a sense of urgency” to bring a new system online, but has put in place measures to stabilize the existing system until what he can do.

Setting up a state-wide human resources software system is a complex process that requires implementation consultants like Accenture to work closely with state staff to customize and configure the new system, import legacy data, and train staff in its use and maintenance. . Internal documents and meeting notes reviewed by the Press Herald for last year’s investigation into the stalled project identified a host of issues on the state side of the ledger that former contractors and staff, were primarily responsible for the collapse.

“Maine didn’t have the right people in the right places, and the rates they were offering weren’t going to bring the right expertise to Maine,” said Ahmadah Afif, a Maryland-based global training consultant who has worked on the project for the State. , told the Press Herald last year. “In order to save money, they gave jobs to people with little or no experience. It was like, ‘Hey, I’m going to throw you in the fire. Dance for me!'”

“I don’t think any of us were qualified for the jobs we had,” said another former state contractor. “They were quick to hire whoever they could.”

An independent consulting agency brought in by the state in late 2020 to assess what was wrong with the project – IJA Strategies – identified a long list of issues: the state frequently changes plans, timelines and configurations “so that new staff review previous design decisions”; fatigue, turnover and loss of motivation of project staff; disagreements among state agencies over how statewide payroll rules should be interpreted; and bad data loaded into the new systems from the old, which guarantees errors and delays.

“BEAR AN IMPORTANT RESPONSIBILITY”

When asked how the department would fix the issues that helped derail the previous attempt to launch the new system, Trundy said Workday Professional Services “bears significant responsibility for failing to meet its contractual obligations to put in place all components that were ready to go into service despite their insistence otherwise”, but acknowledged that there were “contributing factors which the department had a responsibility to correct”.

Trundy described a number of new processes the department had developed over the past year to address these shortcomings. They include improving data quality and correcting errors before they are imported from the legacy system, ensuring proper documentation of business requirements and processes, and initiating an “electronic audit” which sends a monthly ping to each executive branch supervisor to certify payroll and other reports. the system uses. She said they were also looking at proposals for an independent verification provider who will judge Accenture’s condition and performance and assess risk – a role the previous project also had.

Accenture – a company formerly known as Andersen Consulting – beat out two other companies in a competitive bid for the implementation work. The Dublin-based multinational received by far the highest marks from internal evaluators, in part due to its extensive experience implementing Workday software systems for other large clients, including the State of Iowa and the cities of Dallas, Denver and Baltimore.


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