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The City of Cairo will end a decade-long partnership with the City of Thomasville in 2020 as Cairo converts to a new utility and financial software.
The mayor and council were briefed on the conversion plans Monday night.
According to Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton, in January 2009 the city converted its utility billing to a software known as UBILL to accommodate the launch of CNS telephone service and the required accounting software for that new service. Then, in 2010 the city converted its financial software to MSGovern/GEMS. Both systems were managed by Thomasville.
Addleton says the city partnered with Thomasville because of the opportunity for a seamless integration with UBILL; the proximity of service and support being in Thomasville; and the fact other CNS cities including Camilla and Moultrie in addition to Thomasville were using the same software.
Thomasville announced earlier this year that the City of Thomasville is converting to Cogsdale Software and they would only support UBILL through December 2020.
This news resulted in not only Cairo seeking a new software solution, but also Camilla and Moultrie due to the cost of Cogsdale.
Addleton formed a committee made up of himself, former Cairo City Clerk Carolyn Lee, Finance Director Miriam Faircloth and Customer Service Director Carolyn Robinson to explore the city’s options and evaluate proposals from software vendors.
The city solicited and received three proposals. The proposals received were from Cogsdale – software and conversion cost of $271,090 and annual maintenance and support of $62,710 annually; Edmunds GovTech – software and conversion cost of $128,280 and annual maintenance and support of $23,410 annually; and Tyler Technologies – software and conversion cost of $110,600 and maintenance and support of $71,670 annually.
The city manager pointed out that the Cogsdale proposal was to convert the UBILL software only, but the other two vendors included the conversion of both systems in their bids.
Cairo is currently paying Thomasville $72,000 annually for software maintenance and support.
On Monday night, Addleton presented the city council with the study committee’s recommendation to accept the bid from Tyler Technologies.
Based on the study committee’s research, they recommended Tyler because it is less expensive than Cogsdale and has additional capabilities beyond what Edmunds offers. According to city officials, Tyler also manages their own updates, storage and servers. The committee found Tyler’s software more “customer friendly” than Edmunds.
“You never want to convert to another software if you don’t have to,” City Manager Addleton told the city council Monday night.
However, Addleton said the process could take up to a year and his desire would be to hit the ground running with the conversion in January. The plan will be to run parallel systems during the conversion process before completing the conversion.
Cairo Mayor Booker Gainor asked if the new system included a mobile app that city residents could use to monitor their monthly usage of utilities.
According to Customer Service Director Carolyn Robinson, Tyler does offer that feature. The new system will also allow the city to notify residents who have not paid for their utilities and are facing the suspension of their accounts, which is something not currently offered, according to Robinson.
Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas, who chairs the council’s finance committee, asked if any of the city staff had gone and visited with personnel in other cities that have actually used the new software before making a recommendation.
Robinson said they had not, but she said that the Tyler representatives had done a thorough presentation and answered every question the city staff had for them.
Douglas said having been involved in previous conversions it had always been his preference to go meet and sit down with someone who actually uses the system on a daily basis and not just seek recommendations from financial directors.
Councilman Jerry Cox said he had also been involved in previous software conversions. “None of them go seamlessly. I’m glad to hear you plan to run a parallel system,” Cox said.
“I’ve been involved in conversions where later someone told us they wished we had called them before we did something. I would hate for that to happen with this one,” Cox added.
“It’s a huge undertaking, no doubt,” Addleton said.
The mayor asked for clarification that the new system would allow customers to access their accounts to monitor monthly usage. Robinson said it would and also noted that through the mobile app the customer could “see everything we can see” and she said the new software would also accommodate setting up bank drafts remotely or paying by credit card remotely as well, which is not offered presently.
Robinson reminded the city officials there had been some “hiccups” when the city converted to UBILL and GEMS. “We’re going to have that this time, too, that’s just part of it,” Robinson said.
There is $75,000 in the city’s 2019-2020 operating budget to cover a portion of the conversion and the city manager is planning to budget the remaining $35,600 in next year’s budget. He also noted that the annual maintenance and support of $71,670 would continue to be budgeted annually and allocated to each of the respective departments.
References from other cities that currently use Tyler Technologies software include Sylvester, Kingsland, Jackson, Winder, Carrollton, Monroe, Milledgeville and more.