Government Success: Cass County, ND Moves from Legacy ERP to Microsoft Dynamics 365 for Transparency and Efficiency

How the county government is overcoming system modernization challenges with Microsoft Dynamics 365 Finance and Supply Chain Management, empowering them to better serve their citizens

"As stewards of the public trust, we are firmly responsible to our citizens and constituents."

Bob Henderson Director of Information Technology for Cass County, ND

Cass County, North Dakota, is the state's most populous county, accounting for nearly 24 percent of the state's population.

The county seat is Fargo, the state's most populous city. The county government had invested in Sungard on AS/400 many years ago, and it served them well across many operational systems. But as it was nearing its end of life, it was no longer serving its purpose.

"It was very much a dinosaur," according to Alicia Hildebrand, Treasury Manager of Cass County. “I couldn't use it for our bank reconciliations; I had to use a separate system for that."

The county has struggled in recent years to modernize solutions, improve processes, and increase efficiencies, but the effort was unsuccessful, primarily due to the limitations associated with this legacy technology.

Then, when the county began looking for an employee self-service portal, they found no suitable options that would operate within the current legacy AS/400 environment. That spurred the decision to embark on a broader enterprise modernization initiative.

"As stewards of the public trust, we are firmly responsible to our citizens and constituents," said Bob Henderson, Director of Information Technology for Cass County. "We needed to have a system that could look at our processes and help us adapt to a new modern way of doing it and then give us the potential to integrate it with outside resources as well."

A modern ERP for the public sector

Cass County began searching for a modern ERP solution to replace the legacy system. The solution needed to be capable of handling the specifics of public sector accounting and provide an integrated environment. The county prioritized solutions with a successful state and local government implementation track record, and after careful consideration, they selected Microsoft Dynamics 365 (D365) Finance and Supply Chain Management.

"We short-listed a number of vendors," said Robert Wilson, the County Administrator for Cass County. "Microsoft Dynamics 365 was shown to be the product that best fit our needs."

Based on Microsoft’s recommendation, the Cass County team tapped HSO to implement the solution. An award-winning Microsoft partner, HSO has for over two decades been designing, implementing, and supporting business solutions for governments at the state and local level. The HSO team understood the issues faced by state and local governments and the challenges around modernizing their technology platforms, pursuing the goal to achieve value as quickly as possible while mitigating risk and costs.

“As with any transition to a new product, we really needed a lot of guidance to make sure we were getting the most out of the product as we can as well as doing it in the correct fashion, which is where our partner, HSO, has really been a huge part for us,” commented Henderson.

"Learning new things can be hard, and the learning curve can be quite steep. But I do appreciate the staff from HSO helping us flatten that learning curve and making the transition process quite seamless.”

Thomas Soucy Highway Department Engineer for Cass County, ND

From ground to cloud

Cass County's IT team had been tasked with maintaining the on-premises AS/400 system for years, including hardware replacements and costly upgrades.

The transition to Microsoft Dynamics 365 in the cloud would relieve them of these burdensome tasks. With the new solution, hardware could be scaled appropriately in the cloud, and upgrades would be automatic. The team would also benefit from high availability, smoother, more reliable backups, better security and disaster recovery, and anytime-anywhere user access for remote work.

The county stipulated that data and processes should flow seamlessly across the platform while providing the county user community a best-of-breed experience.

According to Henderson, "As a goal to modernizing our environment and to better serve our citizens, we started to look at new utilities we could use in our finance office, our billing, and everywhere else."

“Make no mistake, this is a big investment. We have to provide the greatest value to our constituents and our citizens. Microsoft Dynamics 365 can provide that for us.”

Robert Wilson County Administrator for Cass County, ND

Providing better transparency to the community and greater efficiency to the government.

Ultimately, the implementation was made possible by the collaborative relationship between the HSO and Cass County teams.

“The HSO team is made up of a lot of specialists, and has just been really good about helping us find everything that we need to make the project a success,” said Tami Hansen, Business System Analyst for Cass County.

Added Thomas Soucy, Highway Department Engineer at Cass County: “Learning new things can be hard, and the learning curve can be quite steep. But I do appreciate the staff from HSO actually helping us flatten that learning curve and making the transition process quite seamless.”

In addition to retiring the AS/400 system, Cass County's key objectives were met by engaging in this transformative project:

  • Enable process improvement, integration, and automation across financial management which will increase efficiency across the county's operations
  • Surface real-time data to stakeholders and facilitate easier decision-making for county executives
  • Increase employee retention and attract new talent to work in state-of-the-art systems day to day with processes that make sense
  • Provide better service and transparency to the 180,000 county residents
  • Leverage the interoperability of the Microsoft platform to continue modernizing beyond this implementation

Soucy has been very happy with the results. "In the past, the process to do a billing would have taken us days. Now we’ll be able to do it in a matter of minutes."

Bob Henderson was also pleased: "One great thing that we get out of this is our workflow piece. As you submit invoices, it automatically fires off to the right location based upon its content or department or any other feature you really want to tie to it. So, everything is fully transparent and tracked."

In addition to those accomplishments, and arguably most importantly, is the county’s improved ability to make smart financial decisions that bolster the public’s confidence in the government that serves them:

“Make no mistake, this is a big investment,” said Wilson. “We’ve done that because we believe it will allow us to make better financial decisions, track those financial decisions better than we had in the past, and allow us to explain those decisions to department heads, commissioners, and the public at large in a way that should give the public great confidence in how their resources are being spent. We have to provide the greatest value to our constituents and our citizens. Microsoft Dynamics 365 can provide that for us.”

Looking ahead

"With Microsoft Dynamics 365," said Henderson, "we're going to be able to standardize that onto a standard platform that ties directly back to our finance. We don't have to shuffle paper around anymore."

The county plans to implement Microsoft Dynamics 365 Field Service in the future to replace the current work order management on AS/400, which will enable Cass County to complete the migration off of the AS/400 ERP.

"In Cass County, we are projected to grow by an additional 50,000 people by 2050," Henderson said. "As our needs change in the county and as we have new projects or new procedures, Dynamics 365 scales. It's tied to the cloud. If we need more resources, we get more resources transparently."

In the end, it’s about serving the citizens and constituents of Cass County. With a modern system in place, the county’s employees are better equipped to understand and respond to the needs of citizens faster and more effectively, improving their quality of life and attracting new people and businesses to the county.

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