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  SAP Needs Work to Serve City's Needs
February 29, 2004
  Nat Bates, Charles Belcher and I attended the City of Richmond SAP Study Session at City Hall on February 24. There was both good news and bad news.

Based on the many written comments I received from city employees and others, SAP is a system that can serve the city’s needs, but it needs care, feeding and lots of attention. A carefully managed presentation, coordinated by Peggy R. Phelps, Senior Account Executive, of SAP, was made featuring applications that have apparently been successful, including issuing building permits, tracking requests internally for infrastructure maintenance such as potholes, and GIS.

Sue Hartman, Information Technology Director, reported that the City had spent the following to date:

Software $672,956.01
Consulting $3,746,226.80 (includes GIS functional layer for SAP)
AP-specific hardware $125,434.47

Some City staff members, including IT staff and Purchasing Manager Chris Schroeder, have been quick to criticize other City staff members for not embracing SAP. Peggy Phelps began the session by recapitulating how many staff members who were involved in the initial implementation of SAP have since left the City.

My take is that City employees want to embrace SAP, but many have not been given the tools and applications they need to do their jobs, and they have not been given the support they need from IT to implement SAP in their departments. Planning Director Barry Cromartie said that his commitment to Planning Department cost recovery continues to be stymied because SAP has not been configured for his needs. Everything is being done by hand, and the data he needs to effectively manage his department, said Cromartie, is simply not available.

Although it is not clear what the relationship is of Purchasing and SAP, Chris Schroeder continues to tout his implementation of new purchasing procedures and CalCard. But, again, other employees are not so awe-struck. One employee notes: “Finance has once more ‘updated/improved’ the P3 form we must use in order to pay invoices. A co-worker pointed out to me that the new form actually has a dark vertical line in the upper right hand corner, next to which are the words "Staple Here" in tiny font! In the meantime, I have 12 invoices totaling over $14,000 at my desk waiting for the people who've been directed by Chris Schroeder to update the forms, to convert them from Purchase Requisitions to Purchase Orders so I can Goods Receipt them and forward them on to AP. Day before yesterday, there was no gas in the Corp Yard pump. Invoices that used to turn around in a maximum of 2-3 days date back to 01/16/04.”

Another employee complains “Chris Schroeder initiated a P3 form to use in processing invoices. The new requirements to complete the process take more time in the initial stages and ultimately require copies in triplicate (Finance, my files, files of Equipment Services official P3, Roscoe Ward). After a couple of months, the form was revised, causing us the extra work of updating our previously created P3 templates. The form was revised again at the beginning of February, and on February 25, it was revised again. You begin to see the problem?”

One attendee was surprised that there was no financial presentation. “Other than Sharon West, Angela Rush and Darnel Brown, the presentations were from IT. Chris from purchasing does not use SAP, and would not know how. We have not lost this vast knowledge from people being laid off; they never had the knowledge. Very little has been done for writing reports because Randall [Narron] is to busy trying to patch up the holes in the processes. Purchasing took a function that required one piece of paper and turned it into about 25 pieces of paper and the same with the step process. It was so simple before, now it is exhausting.”

“When you enter a requisition, and the account string, those funds should be encumbered. That is not happening, or else Finance is coming in after the entry is done and changing things. I have talked to other personnel in the City and they have also seen that happen. We used to type up a work order and send it. Now we go into SAP and have to entry about 25 pages of info. Now you tell me how this system has made the city run more efficiently. It is obvious to everyone who reads the paper that our finances are in bad shape. Well if you have a system that doesn't work, maybe that is the problem?”

Darnel Brown of IT made a presentation about how SAP had been adapted to serve code enforcement. When I asked him how it would incorporate administrative citations, he had no idea what I was talking about. One problem I see with SAP implementation is that the users and IT are apparently not communicating. I asked for a future session to be held with just IT, Finance, Code Enforcement and the City Attorney’s Office participating to find out why these people weren’t talking to each other.

When the obvious problem of departments that did not yet have access to SAP applications came to light, IT and SAP representatives took the defense by saying the City had insufficient funds to make it work for everyone. The implications were that the City had tried to implement SAP “on the cheap” and the problems now being experienced are the result. We should be thankful, intimated one presenter, that we are getting $20 million of capability for a $3 million investment. No one ever told the City Council that when the system was recommended by staff.

Overall, my conclusion was that there is a significant communications problem among City staff regarding SAP. I recommended that IT make a diligent effort to discuss with each department its needs and complaints about SAP and prepare a schedule and budget for implementation that is available to everyone and updated monthly. Until everyone has access to the wonders of SAP, large portions of City operations will continue to be crippled.