Lancaster city has been quietly overhauling its computer hardware and software over the past several years.
Officials say the switch, now largely complete, will enable better management of resources and better service for city residents.
The previous system was outdated, said Patrick Hopkins, city director of administrative services.
Dating to the Smithgall administration, it was cumbersome for city employees to use and had very limited reporting capabilities.
The new software, a suite of applications called “Munis,” will improve data tracking and permit city departments to share information easily. That in turn will improve customer service, Hopkins said.
The transition took several years of planning, beginning with a needs analysis and vendor evaluation. In 2014, the city signed a contract for Munis with Tyler Technologies, a Maine-based firm that specializes in public-sector software.
Implementing Munis has cost the city about $1.5 million, including software, conversion expenses and extensive training, Hopkins said.
The system’s ongoing expenses are about the same as before. Among other things, the city is maintaining its shared-services agreement with the county government, which hosts its server.
The difference, Hopkins said, that the city now has much better software and a one-stop shop, Tyler, for training, support and future upgrades.
In summer 2015 Munis’ financial module went live, the first component to do so. That was followed by payroll in January 2016.
Later came real estate tax billing — the bills that went out in February were the first issued on Munis — then utility billing, then a module for handling permits, licenses and inspections.
In April, the city suspended credit and debit card payments for a week while transitioning its Treasury office to the new system.
All the city’s back-end operations are now on Munis, Hopkins said.
Meanwhile, the city has been moving its internal telecommunications onto its new 1-gigabit fiber optic network, the same system that serves as the backbone for LanCity Connect, the public-private consumer broadband initiative the city is undertaking with MAW Communications.
City Hall and the interim Streets Bureau building at 515 N. Franklin St. were put onto the fiber-optic network in June. The Treasury department switched over at the end of August, and the police department is expected to follow within a few weeks, Hopkins said.
For awhile over the summer, transactions at Treasury were taking extra time, due in part to running Munis on a legacy network and in part to the learning curve that comes with any complex piece of software.
There also have been issues with a few credit card transactions. But the problems are being ironed out and transaction speeds are getting to where they should be, Hopkins said.
In the near future, the software will allow various enhancements to online bill paying.
Currently, about 35 percent to 40 percent of city trash and utility accounts are paid online, but paper bills are still mailed out to all accounts, said Jill Rhinier, chief of procurement and collection.
In future, customers will be able to set up and customize online accounts, pay bills by automatic debit, and go paperless if they choose.
Landlords and managers who oversee multiple city properties will be able to aggregate bills and pay them at the same time, Hopkins said.
The city expects to roll out most if not all of the added features by early next year, he said.