Outside party to review city of Santa Fe systems update

September 16, 2018

A high-priority, multimillion-dollar project designed to move the city of Santa Fe from a paper-based operation and into the 21st century is at a crossroads.

The city said in a late Friday afternoon memo that it is about to embark on a third-party review of the massive technological systems upgrade, one it said was critical to bringing its many departments into the modern era. Other organizations, such as NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration, conduct such reviews to make sure an expensive product or system will operate as intended.

“This independent review will give our brand-new department leaders — who are tasked with successfully overseeing the implementation — the information they need to make the best possible resource and staffing allocations,” Deputy City Manager Renée Martínez wrote in the memo, released after the close of business Friday.

Called the Enterprise Resource Planning and Land Use System Modernization Project — or Project ¡Ándale! for short — the initiative is the city’s solution to its aging technology and outdated business processes. Both are barriers to a more efficient and user-friendly city government, which Mayor Alan Webber identified on the campaign trail as goals of his administration.

The business process and technology improvement project will make things like getting a business license, navigating the building permit process and filling out a purchase order much simpler, faster and more efficient, Martínez said.

The project, which has been years in the making, landed in the spotlight earlier this year amid revelations that former City Manager Brian Snyder had quietly approved $400,000 in temporary raises for a select group of employees who were assigned to work on the project. Snyder signed off on the temporary pay increases just days before Webber took office, generating criticism from some taxpayers who saw it as an underhanded move.

Webber initially defended the temporary raises but then rescinded them when he discovered — with the help of City Councilor JoAnne Vigil Coppler, a former human resources director for the city — that Snyder had granted the raises in violation of a policy that required City Council approval.

In addition to revoking the raises, Webber asked Snyder to resign, though Snyder’s employment contract allowed him to go back to his old job at the city Water Division.

Snyder wasn’t the only casualty.

Lynette Trujillo, who was the human resources director at the time, retired as a result of the flap. Trujillo previously had expressed a desire to continue to work for the city under the Webber administration.

Despite the turmoil, the city continued to implement the project.

The need for a third-party review, though, wasn’t part of the original plan.

Neither Martínez nor city spokesman Matt Ross was available to answer questions about the review, including whether it’s a sign the project may be in trouble, after close of business Friday.

The so-called Independent Verification & Validation “is a best practice used by organizations to assure the quality of software products and projects,” Martínez’s memo states.

“Typically, upon completion of the [review], we’ll receive an assessment of the implementation and a corrective action plan — if needed,” the memo continues.

Martínez made no mention of the independent review during an interview about the project Thursday with The New Mexican.

Instead, she said city executives were considering a range of options as they continue to roll out the initiative, including extending the implementation schedule and hiring temporary workers to backfill some of the regular duties of city employees who are responsible for carrying out the project’s workload.

While the temporary raises are no longer on the table, at least not at the moment, the city is still trying to figure out a way to incentivize employees who have been assigned to work on the project.

Earlier this year, the city pitched a plan to raise the cap on compensation time for employees involved in the initiative. The plan received the support of city executives, including the mayor and city manager, Martínez said. But the city put that plan on hold following the hiring of new directors in the human resources and finance departments.

“They’re in the middle of the storm in terms of having a lot of their staff working on the project,” she said.

“They really wanted to get a better understanding of their staff and who was working on what to determine whether or not this is something that they needed,” added Martínez, who is the point person on the project. “They haven’t come to a conclusion that they need it at this time. … I wouldn’t say it’s completely dead. It’s still an option.”

The compensation plan could cost up to $502,000, according to a city memo.

Another option under consideration is bringing in contractors to implement the system, an idea that Jonathan Gross, managing director of Pemeco Consulting, a Canada-based firm that manages such business technology projects, doesn’t recommend.

“That’s the worst alternative because they don’t know anything about the business,” he said. “At the end of the project, they’re going to go somewhere else, and the users are going to be responsible for taking over something and executing processes that may not reflect the needs of the business.”

Best practice would be to allow employees who are assigned to the project to work on it full time and backfill their day-to-day jobs, Gross said.

But “most organizations, public or private, can’t afford to do that,” he said.

Martínez said the new human resources and finance directors, Bernadette Salazar and Mary McCoy, respectively, are evaluating their departments’ needs. They have been getting up to speed on the project over the last couple of weeks, she said.

“They’ve asked to relook at some of the business process decisions that have been made because part of the success of this project is not just to get new software but to overlay that new software onto better business processes,” she said. “We’re anticipating that they may be making some changes to the staffing on the project, and they may want to make some changes on the business processes, which in turn would require some changes to the software configuration.”

The city will determine whether it will start the next phase of the five-phase project as scheduled in January after the two directors complete their reviews, she said. The city has started three phases of the project and have completed one.

Martínez said extending the overall implementation schedule also is under consideration.

“I think the most important thing in our mind is we want to be successful” with the project, she said. “If moving out the schedule means we will be more successful, then that’s a good thing.”

Gross cautioned against extending the schedule.

“It depends how slow they want to go, but we have very, very big concerns when a company says, ‘We want to engage these types of projects but maybe only have our [employees] spend 10 to 20 percent of their time on it,’ ” he said. “This is a high-impact, high-performance type of project that doesn’t lend itself well to stopping and starting and to extending the timeline.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

Update hourly