State’s New FI$Cal Computer System Is Running a Year Late and Over Budget

Thursday, February 27, 2014

California state government is in the middle of an 11-year project, executed in five waves, to create a central financial platform that will attempt to streamline 2,500 legacy financial systems used across more than 120 departments.

As the first wave breaks across the horizon, the Financial Information System for California (FI$Cal) is running one year behind schedule and will cost 9% more than its projected $616.8 million price tag. California State Auditor Elaine Howle noted FI$Cal’s new January projection in a report (pdf) this week to Governor Jerry Brown and the Legislature.

Howle said the project’s system integrator, Accenture, has not included state employees in the process and fails to provide adequate documentation of software configurations. Part of the problem, she said is about one-third of the system integrator staff  work offshore. Other Accenture employees are working in off-hours when state workers aren’t around.

This could “result in dependence on a vendor to maintain FI$Cal,” Howle wrote.

Most of the software programs being used in the project are off-the-shelf commercial products that need few modifications. They will be used for accounting, procurement and cash management. But software that will replace the current process for creating the governor’s budget and legislative budget documents is not. That software is proprietary and requires significant configuration.

Apparently, it has not gone well.

“The budgeting function was experiencing instability issues, which it primarily attributed to the system integrator improperly performing installation tasks,”

Howle wrote. The IV&V indicated that the nature of the errors encountered suggests that the system integrator may have been learning the software for the budget function while building it.”    

As the project advances, the state has shifted the timetable for when particular government entities are included. As a result of changes detailed in the project’s fifth special report last month, announcing the one-year delay, the number of departments being hooked up in the fourth wave ballooned from 45 to 68.

“Our IT expert believes that including so many departments in a single wave may overwhelm the project’s resources,” Howle warned. The result could mean that “full implementation of FI$Cal will be delayed beyond July 2017 and the project’s cost will increase.”   

Howle chastised the lawmakers for ignoring three suggestions to track costs she made in her April 2012 report. “We are unaware of any legislative action to address our recommendations, however, we believe they are still valid,” Howle wrote, so she repeated them at the end of her letter.

FI$Cal is one of the state’s largest and most complex IT projects, many of which have famously gone wrong. A new payroll system for In-Home Support Services workers was deemed an “unmitigated disaster” in 2012 and the court system is just beginning to grapple with the demise of its $1 billion California Court Case Management System (CCMS). The state spent $500 million on a system linking all 58 Superior Courts with law enforcement, the public and 70 different computers systems, before finally cutting it loose. 

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

State Is Warned About New Fiscal Computer System's Costs and Timeline (by Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times)

Fi$Cal ERP Overhaul Hits First Critical Milestone (by Colin Wood, Government Technology)

Letter to the Governor and Legislature (California State Auditor) (pdf)

Leave a comment