City's computer upgrade marked by delays, rising costs

CITY HALL — When the City Council in 2007 approved a $1.2-million contract for updating an internal computer system, the software was sold as an airtight deal to modernize and streamline city processes.

As part of their recommendation, city officials pointed to an extensive eight-month selection process. And then-Asst. City Manager Bob McFall went so far as to describe the contract with Culver City-based firm EdgeSoft as “probably one of the most aggressive performance-related contracts” the city had executed.

But internal emails show that even as the project became marked by glitches, delays and squabbling between city officials and the technology firm, the contract continued to grow — bringing the tab to $2.2 million.

City officials attribute much of the additional costs to added features and portray the project as “exceedingly successful,” allowing employees to be more efficient. But thousands of internal emails obtained by the News-Press through a public records request paint a different story — one of a project that has been riddled with delays and rising costs.

“I share your frustration…” EdgeSoft founder Shan Sundar wrote to Information Services Director Ed Fraga in July 2009. “To put it into some context, this is definitely a $2.5 million project, no matter who did it. We learned this the hard way.”

EdgeSoft representatives could not be reached for comment.

Fraga, who joined the department one month earlier, was charged with reigning in the then two-year-old project.

City officials had recommended buying the new interface to replace what they said was an outdated system that was unable to support remote Internet access and other important functions.

About 300 employees in the city's community development and fire departments use the system for all planning and building and safety permitting, code enforcement and annual fire safety inspections of local businesses.

City officials have spent thousands of hours on the change over, the emails show. In one month alone, five Information Services employees worked more than 300 hours on implementing the software at the Building & Safety division.

The bulk of the project was originally scheduled to last roughly two years — with the planning, code enforcement and building and safety components to be fully functional by January 2009.

But after a failed first attempt to implement the software in the city’s Building & Safety division, which makes up roughly 70% of the software’s users, they moved on to the Fire Department, pushing the completion date to fall 2010.

Many of the additional costs have been tied to converting data from the old system — the cost of which was far underestimated by Glendale and EdgeSoft officials — and so-called “department punch lists,” changes requested by city employees that they said were needed to do their jobs.

With the original project budget exhausted, officials have had to turn to additional funding sources to pay for the software change over, including a so-called “technology surcharge” added to all city permits — 6.8% of assessed fees.

Fraga this week acknowledged that there were problems with the software’s initial implementation, but said that he determined in 2009 that the product was overall a “good software” and worth pushing ahead. In turn, Fraga worked with EdgeSoft on a new timeline and project structure, which he said produced far better results.

“It worked better than I had hoped,” he said.

Building Official Stuart Tom — who in April fired off an email to Information Services after the Los Angeles County Assessor’s Office failed to get required information after the system switch — said this week that the glitch had since been resolved.

Tom, one of the software’s loudest critics in the initial implementation, said it has since exceeded his expectations.

“What we are finding right now is the tool is now able to do things the way we want it to be done,” he said.

Some delays remain ongoing. Even after the EdgeSoft installation for the city clerk’s office was pushed to the end of 2010, the work is only now starting.

But despite the initial hurdles and missteps, officials say the software will increase efficiency throughout City Hall.

“The idea that this has somehow cost the city a great deal more just isn’t the case,” Fraga said. adding that “in the end, the cost-benefit to the city is going to be very, very high.”

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