Major Indiana court software project on hold

Von Marc L.

Management, usability and performance issues have delayed the implementation of a US$93 million software automation project for the Indiana state court system, leaving some of the state"s individual courts unsure about how to proceed.

The project, whose prime contractor is software maker Computer Associates International Inc., involves a core case management system (CMS) from CA and a linked financials module. Launched in 2002, the overhaul was slated to be ready for user acceptance testing late last year, with parts of it up and running by now. The project is being overseen by the Indiana Supreme Court Judicial Technology and Automation Committee (JTAC),

Largely because of problems in the financial system that were discovered during testing, the JTAC project team delayed the implementation for further study. In addition, the state has suspended payments to CA, and seven members of the team have been laid off.

"The first release for a subset of statewide functionality was targeted to enter user acceptance testing in the final quarter of 2004," said Mary DePrez, new director of the case management system for the JTAC. "A "go live" date was to be scheduled after the successful completion of user acceptance testing. We were fortunate enough to identify a few problems early, and we are working closely with all our partners to address them."

She said the state and CA are in a "concentrated re-evaluation" that, although "not planned for, is not entirely unexpected at this early stage of a project of this magnitude." During the next four to six months, the JTAC team will decide what, if any, additional requirements are needed. Then it can determine when the project will be completed, she said.

The largest challenges came from the financial module, Masterpiece, which clerks and court officials will use to process fines and perform other duties. Masterpiece is now part of ERP software vendor SSA Global Technologies Inc."s portfolio. When first sold to JTAC, it was part of CA"s business applications suite.

"Following the assessment of the application that had been delivered to JTAC from CA during the month of December, we had a collective gasp ... as to what we had and what we needed," said Mark Renner, the Marion County court administrator and a member of the governing board under the JTAC. Marion County was one of the initial testers of the system in December.

Although Masterpiece works well in the private sector, it"s too sophisticated for clerks and other users in the court, Renner said.

A CA spokesman acknowledged that "there was some difficulty translating commercial accounting functions to unique aspects of court case financial functions." Performance between Masterpiece and the CMS was also slow.

According to Renner, other problems included a lack of clear communication about functional needs and requirements, failure to define the scope of the project and a lack of proper management from both CA and the JTAC personnel. That resulted in a CMS that is not as user-friendly as it should be.

In Marion County, which includes the city of Indianapolis and has the most end users of any county court, administrators are wondering whether they should upgrade their own 18-year-old legacy CMS or wait till the JTAC system goes live -- something Renner said could take two to three years.

Should Marion County move ahead and upgrade from its current mainframe to a .Net-based system, Renner said, the costs could run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The delay in getting the JTAC system up and running is disappointing, said Clay County clerk Mary Brown. She said her administration might have considered rolling out its own CMS if it had known the implementation would be problematic. The postponement also means there will be three more years of data generated that will have to be entered by hand into the JTAC system.

"I don"t know what we"ll do," Brown said.

CA remains committed to the project, said a company spokesman. "We are working closely with JTAC to address all issues in a complete and timely manner." That effort includes finding a replacement to Masterpiece by building the financial functions directly into the CMS and making the CMS more usable for court employees.

In an e-mail, an SSA Global official said: "The project was 90 percent completed according to the original scope of work, when the overall requirements of the case management system changed significantly. SSA Global was in the middle of discussing the required changes when they were informed that the Indiana Court System decided to develop its own solution."