As a complex array of disparate systems blurred its overview of spend, assets, staff and more, how could Cook County Government invest taxpayer dollars wisely and run first-class services?
The County selected IBM to help it transform operational efficiency, embracing common business practices and standardizing on a core suite of integrated Oracle applications.
EnablesCounty employees to perform more value-added activities, raising productivity
Reducesrisk and support cost by retiring aging systems
Offersenhanced transparency, so constituents can see how their tax dollars are spent
Business challenge story
Big budgets and high stakes
Cook County, IL, is the second-most-populous county in the US. For vital services such as hospitals, law enforcement, parks, refuse collection and more, over five million local residents and thousands of local businesses rely on Cook County Government. The municipality is one of the nation’s largest, administering an annual budget of over USD 4 billion and employing around 23,000 people.
It’s not just the government’s size that makes it unusual; its structure is unique too, as Tom Lynch, Cook County’s Deputy Chief Information Officer, explains: “Most municipalities have a relatively straightforward top-down structure, presided over by a mayor or governor. Cook County is different, because our government is divided into many separately elected offices, each with independent authority over their respective areas of responsibility.
“Over decades, each elected office had built up its own IT systems and ways of working. In total, the County had amassed eight different ERP systems, with no integration, common data structure or standard processes between them. As a result, it was extremely difficult to gain a complete view of things such as how many staff we were employing, how much we were paying them, how much of our annual budget we had spent, and how much of the remaining budget was earmarked for certain projects. Ultimately, that lack of visibility was impeding our ability to make sensible decisions, run high-quality public services and invest taxpayer dollars wisely.
“To run the County more efficiently and effectively, we needed to find a better way of working.”
Breaking the mold
Cook County Government decided to standardize on Oracle applications and harmonize core processes – such as budgeting, human-resource management and procurement – across its organization. Given the municipality’s size, the project was a mammoth undertaking. For help on the journey ahead, the County enlisted the support of IBM® Services.
“We selected IBM because their offering was the most comprehensive, including implementation, support, infrastructure and disaster recovery in-house, rather than relying on a third party,” recalls Tom Lynch. “IBM also demonstrated a strong track-record of large-scale and public-sector Oracle implementations.
“We also chose IBM because it offered change management consulting services and met our diversity requirements by tasking 35 percent of the project to minority- and women-owned business enterprises (M/WBE) that do business with Cook County.”
The project was divided into four waves. The first wave introduced Oracle E-Business Suite modules for financials and procurement, while the second introduced Oracle Hyperion Financial Management for budgeting and Consolidated Annual Financial Reporting (CAFR). Both of these implementations went smoothly and the solutions are now live.
The County is preparing for the third wave, which uses Oracle E-Business Suite for Human Resources, Payroll and Benefits, and for the fourth wave, which will cover Oracle E-Business Suite modules for inventory management and advanced procurement and Mobile Supply Chain (for the hospitals). Additionally, the County is working with IBM to implement Oracle Business Intelligence for reporting, plus Oracle Identity and Access Management for single sign-on.
The Oracle applications are hosted in a private cloud environment on IBM Cloud for Oracle, which is a fully managed, IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) compliant cloud that supports the development, test, production, and production environments. The cloud delivers a multi-node high-availability solution, with automatic failover if one server goes down, and resource utilization is balanced automatically over multiple VMs. Following the deployment, IBM will provide application management services for five years, supplying level 2 and level 3 support, as well as support for middleware and database administration.
Opting for a cloud deployment has reduced cost and enhanced reliability compared to the legacy on-premise applications. In addition, IBM has successfully established a cloud-based disaster-recovery site in another state, to help ensure business continuity in case of natural disasters.
To accompany the solution deployments, the County is working closely with IBM to establish efficient, standardized business processes across the municipality – adopting best practices where appropriate. The IBM consultants are using their in-depth knowledge of change management to ease the transition and ensure all parts of the organization agree on the new ways of working.
Tom Lynch remarks: “Our Oracle ERP implementation has a broad scope, particularly considering the tight timeline we are pursuing. IBM has met all key milestones, and the project is running on schedule.”
Unlocking massive efficiency gains
As the Oracle solutions take root, the County is gradually retiring its legacy disparate ERP systems. By replacing the aging systems, the County avoids rising support costs and reduces risk.
In addition, the transformation project will enable employees across the County to work more efficiently – and even introduce new services for local public-sector organizations without increasing headcount.
One of the biggest improvements to date has been replacing a time-consuming process that leverages spreadsheet-based input with a workflow based automated process for budgeting with Oracle Hyperion, which helps the County to create, agree and finalize the budget in an efficient, largely automated manner.
The County often has to adapt its budget to shifting circumstances, such as changing headcount and pay rates. Previously, such alterations were time-consuming and it was easy to make mistakes. The County is working with IBM to build interfaces between Oracle Hyperion and Oracle E-Business Suite to capture adjustments automatically, helping to ensure budgetary accuracy.
Another key improvement lies in procurement. Previously, staff had to approve each purchase individually, ensuring the funds were available and not committed for other initiatives. The new Oracle solution automatically approves purchase orders if the contract is active and the funds are in place, and most purchase orders are processed without human invention. These changes have transformed the County’s control over its budget, limited the scope for error, and enabled employees work more efficiently.
Tom Lynch resumes: “This solution provides us with granular, up-to-date insight into our finances. For example, we can see how much we have spent on a given project, or view our current or forecasted cash flow. Those insights empower us to make smarter financial decisions, such as when to issue bonds so that we borrow only the money we need.”
The new Oracle applications delivered by IBM also stand to streamline the County’s management of inventory and fixed assets – in particular, helping departments keep track of stock as it is moved between storerooms or warehouses, and report on its value. Central inventory and fixed-asset management will be a new service for organizations across the County, which previously relied predominantly on spreadsheets to track their assets.
In addition, enhanced features for supplier management will benefit local organizations that aspire to work with the county. Rather than having to contact the accounts payable or procurement team, companies will be able to self-register as suppliers, then log into a portal to view the status of orders, bids and payments. This new service will be particularly beneficial to smaller vendors, for which doing business with a large organization such as Cook County Government can be a daunting prospect. What’s more, the accounts payable and procurement teams will have lower enquiry volumes to handle, helping them work more productively.
In the same manner, a new portal for employees will enable them to independently manage their tax contributions, address information and view payroll advices, rather than contacting the human resources department. In future, the County plans to further enhance the efficiency of its human-resource management by deploying Oracle Performance Management cloud, to run in the Oracle cloud along with its current Oracle Taleo Recruiting Cloud Service.
The fruits of the County’s labor reach beyond operational staff up to senior managers. Reports formerly generated and emailed as spreadsheets will be replaced by interactive dashboards built on Oracle Business Intelligence. Right from their desktops, executives will be able to harvest rich, actionable insight based on current data.
Cook County citizens will make direct gains from these enhanced capabilities and operational efficiencies. The County plans to develop interfaces that feed information from Oracle E-Business Suite to the County’s Open Data portal, where it will be available for all to access. Citizens will be able to see how their tax dollars are being spent in real time – and if they have concerns, they will have the data at their fingertips to explore.
Furthermore, the County plans to harness cognitive technology from IBM Watson to automatically interpret requests to its helpdesk and provide answers.
Tom Lynch concludes: “We have rebuilt our business processes from the bottom up, embracing efficiency, standardization and automation. In doing so, we are transforming our organizational productivity to make even better use of taxpayer dollars, and sharpening our ability to provide top-quality services for local residents and businesses.”
About Cook County Government
Located in Illinois, US, Cook County Government provides vital public services for residents and businesses. The second-largest county in the US, it controls an annual budget of over USD 4 billion, and employs around 23,000 people.
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