Friday, January 22, 1999

Butler Co. computers sore point

Enquirer Contributor

        HAMILTON — Before deciding whether to scrap or upgrade Butler County's controversial computer data system, commissioners want a meeting with county judges.

        “It was an initiative that came out of the courthouse, was controlled by the courthouse and that's where it needs to go back to,” said Courtney Combs, president of the Butler County Board of Commissioners. “I really think we need to convene with the judges and see what they feel” about the project.

        The $1.7 million project was supposed to create a centralized justice information system for the courts, the sheriff's department and the clerk of courts. But only a small portion has been put into operation. Last fall, clerk of courts Cindy Carpenter, a member of the justice information system task force, spent $320,000 for a system from a different vendor, Crawford Consulting Inc. of Canton, Ohio, after learning it would cost $250,000 to upgrade the BIS software for her department. That system began operating three weeks ago.

        A final report presented to commissioners Thursday by Dayton consultants KPMG LLP criticized the project's lack of management by both county officials and BIS Computer Solutions of La Crescenta, Calif., the company that designed the system.

        Commissioner Michael Fox said he's frustrated with the project.

        “Here we just had a consultant tell us the project's a mess. It is a repairable mess if the commission will take a proactive role,” he said. “My hope is we take control and not sweep it under the rug. If our response is to shove it back to the judges, that's no solution. It's more of the same. We have got to provide the leadership for this project to succeed.”

        Consultants recommended general guidelines, including assessing the existing system, developing a clear vision of technology needs now and in the future, a structured time line for whatever decision is made, and a strong project manager. With those in place, the consultants said the commissioners could either continue with the project with the same vendors, or start all over again with a different vendor.

        No cost estimates on either option were included in the consultant's report.

        “You have to stop the proj ect. You can't continue to free-base (the way you have),” said Brian Pridmore of KPMG.

        Mr. Fox, who has criticized the technology for being outmoded and BIS for being too slow, suggested those involved in the project knew it would take longer than the two years agreed to in the contract — but didn't tell commissioners, fearing it would kill the project.

        Mr. Huffman said he had never seen a project like Butler County's completed in two years.

        Mr. Fox said legal questions must be answered before a final decision is made.


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