City Gets Integrated POS System

 
 
By Renee Boucher Ferguson  |  Posted 2006-10-09
 
 
 
San Clemente is a picturesque surfer city in southern Orange County, Calif. But away from the shoreline, things werent always so pretty when it came to running San Clementes computer systems.

The city government operated three different—and, in some cases, very outdated—transactional platforms, a situation that created a lack of visibility between systems and departments.

The Finance & Administrative Services Department—whats typically thought of as City Hall—runs on an ERP (enterprise resource planning) system from Eden Systems. The department oversees the citys treasurer, finance, human resources, IT and risk management areas and oversees operational areas related to utilities and revenue recognition.

Its POS (point of sale) system was integrated with Edens general ledger and accounts receivables applications but remained independent from the citys Community Development and Beaches, Parks and Recreation departments.

The citys Community Development organization—a big deal in any growing Southern California community, given that it oversees building, planning and code compliance—operated on an old POS system for permitting, planning and zoning. It also maintained an out-of-date platform for cashiering.

The Beaches, Parks and Recreation Department, which operates class scheduling, facility rentals and marine safety for the citys 65,000 residents—along with various programs and classes including junior lifeguard, surfing and swimming—had a class scheduling and cashiering program that was not integrated to Edens general ledger system, so transactions such as class scheduling—for example, someone paying for a life guard class—had to be walked over to City Hall. Beaches, Parks and Recreations offices are located right on the water—quite separate from City Hall.

"[Beaches, Parks and Recreation] would have to walk their [receipts] up to City Hall once a day, and we would be forced to hand-enter their transactions every day. The grief of having to hand-enter transactions—that set the stage for why we looked at a citywide POS system," said Tom Rendina, finance manager for the city.

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Add to that the fact that the vendor for Community Developments cashiering software had gone out of business, and the sum total was an increasingly tenuous situation.

"Our IT manager was charged with keeping the thing alive, which became increasingly difficult," said Rendina. "We felt fairly vulnerable. Only one person knew how to run the [cashiering] system, and he might move on. And the system had nothing new, nothing modern."

Rendina went out looking for a new system to implement—one that would unite the disparate transaction systems within the city government and tie in nicely to San Clementes existing ERP system and fee-tracking software.

The city turned to The Active Network, a Vancouver, British Columbia, company that has a government consulting practice with services ranging from implementation to strategic business planning. Through its Active Government Solutions product portfolio, the company also offers a Payment Manager system that fit San Clementes needs.

Beaches, Parks and Recreation was already running an older version of Class Creation, an Active module, and the staff liked the program. From there, Rendina looked for vendors whose products integrated with his two main systems—Edens ERP and CRW Associates system for creating, issuing and tracking community development activity.

"We have a payment solution that enables cities and counties to centralize and automate payment collections and financial transactions across their enterprise," said Gordon Boisvert, director of projects and integration at Active. "It allows them to offer services over the counter, over the phone and through self-service. Weve really focused on local governments through cashier and payments systems and also citizen requirement, Web content and crises communication."

The software San Clemente bought from Active is essentially a centralized payment system that handles transactions through one interface.

For the actual implementation work, Active tapped San Diego-based CRW to serve as the systems integrator from its payment software to CRWs Trakit software that San Clemente already had implemented.

"What happens is, fee details are tracked in our system. Once fees are paid, we produce a report to the finance system," said Vance Bradshaw, vice president of CRW, in San Diego. "San Clemente took a step further, where a cashier will pull up a record and it will query our system to show which fees are outstanding; it takes it to the final step to show a fee paid in our system. If we didnt do this, they would have to do a batch import at the end of each day."

Active was not the only company in the running for the implementation and software provider tasks. After doing its due diligence, the city had Active on its shortlist—in line with Eden, its ERP provider, and one other prospect.

"Three points made [Active] a good and logical choice," said Rendina. "They already had live environments with Eden and CRW, which served the needs of Community Development; Beaches, Parks and Recreation was already on an older version of their class-scheduling software; and Active Network provided the ability to really drill down on transaction details."

While implementation was fairly straightforward, Actives Boisvert said several challenges had to be overcome. His biggest challenge was bringing together San Clementes disparate systems and streamlining processes. "Each department used its own method for collecting money," said Boisvert. "It created huge workflow problems and was not very convenient for citizens."

After assessing each departments workflow, Boisverts team set a routine for every cashier and put policies and procedures in place to maintain the routine.

Working with CRW, Active implemented its Payment Manager software, making sure that it was backward-compatible with Trakit so "everything always works," said Boisvert.

From CRWs perspective, the only challenging part of the integration with Actives software was that San Clementes accounting numbers had to match those in the CRW Trakit system to the class-scheduling program.

"We had to make unique identifiers at the beginning, and Trakit had to match that to what the class [scheduling software] had," said Nathan Hershkowitz, regional account manager at CRW.

From Rendinas perspective, the implementation went well. The team at the city had a weekly telephone conference with the team at Active that resulted in an "action item" list driven by the consultants.

"They divvied out tasks for us and for them, and that was a very effective way to work," said Rendina.

There were, however, a couple of bumps in the road integrating Trakit with Payment Manager, according to Rendina, who said the most difficult aspect of the implementation was making sure everything mapped out effectively.

"We discovered that many of the revenue categories had been bumped together," said Rendina. "We basically decided to expand what we would track. We [initially] consolidated permits into a single line item, and we said, Lets break it down to the next level—to electrical, plumbing [and] grading permits."

The other challenge was tailoring the look-up windows to match the kind of information that would be most logical from a customer standpoint by adding more criteria that enabled information to be found in the system.

"From the standpoint of Community Development, the outcome is fairly positive," said Rendina. "Theyre very happy, and thats important. The new software and POS system has reduced a significant amount of time [spent on its daily process work]."

The employees at Beaches, Parks and Recreation no longer have to carry their transactions to City Hall, and some of the newer features in the latest version of the citywide POS system software enable the finance division to better recognize revenue.

"When [Beaches, Parks and Recreation] booked a class in June, the old system took the money in June, even though the class might not occur until July," said Rendina. "Active allows you to take the money, book it as a deposit and not revenue, and then changes it to revenue when the class starts. This is pretty slick stuff."

With Phase 2 nearly complete—introducing Web-based transactions—Rendina said he is looking ahead to the next steps for San Clemente. One idea is to tie in three ATMs to Actives software and then put a cash machine outside City Hall that enables citizens to pay bills and fees after-hours.

To facilitate the process, Active is working with FMI, an ATM vendor, to determine whether FMI could host the Active platform inside the ATM.

"Active would sit right inside the ATM. Its going to ask you if you want to pay a bill. Once you hit the button, youll see basically the same screens as you would in customer service," said Rendina. "Its kind of an outside-the-box thing."

Have a comment or suggestion? Please e-mail Solutions Series Associate Editor David Weldon at david_weldon@ziffdavis.com.

Case File:

San Clemente, Calif.

  • Organizational snapshot: San Clemente is a seaside city of 65,000 people, located approximately 60 miles southeast of Los Angeles and 50 miles north of San Diego

  • Business need: a comprehensive POS system that could integrate with existing business applications to centralize cashiering and payment processing citywide

  • Technology partner: Active, a leading provider of software technology and marketing solutions for local governments and public service organizations worldwide

  • Recommended solution: Actives payment management solution, to centralize and automate payment collections and financial transactions across the entire city

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