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State of Iowa approves $17m in budget for Workday project after bid to use coronavirus relief funds was denied

Questions raised about procurement process but, gosh, they badly need a replacement HR system

The US State of Iowa has approved $17m in its 2022 budget to replace an HR system dating back to the 1980s with Workday software.

Opposition state representative Chris Hall reportedly refused to back the funding, raising concerns about the lack of competitive bidding for the $52m, five-year project, which will also replace government financial planning software.

Questions have been asked about the procurement as former chief of staff to the state Jake Ketzner is now a lobbyist for the California SaaS specialist. Enthusiasts can listen to local newshound Erin Jordan get a firm "no comment" from Workday's Ketzner before he hangs up to go into a "meeting" here.

The project also attracted controversy when last year state governor Kim Reynolds attempted to use COVID-19 federal relief funding to finance the project, before Rob Sand, State of Iowa auditor, ruled that the means for funding was "not allowable."

Governor Reynolds' communications team has yet to respond to The Register's request for comment. Workday has also been contacted for comment.

Senator Amy Sinclair, chair of the Senate Government Oversight Committee, has told local media that she saw nothing illegal in the procurement process for the Workday project.

The age of the state government's IT systems is given away by the fact that documents confirming the budget decisions [PDF] literally look like they've been typed out and then scanned.

The line under "Technology Reinvestment Fund" confirms $17m for the Office of the Chief Information Officer for the "implementation of a new state personnel, accounting, and budget system." The Department of Management has also had $2.7m approved [PDF] for 20 FTEs including roles in ERP.

Man in suit counts out piles of dollars. Photo via Shutterstock

State of Iowa told no, you can’t use $21m coronavirus federal aid to help fund your $52m Workday roll-out


In September 2020, the state described the WorkSmart Project [PDF] as bringing together all departments to implement Workday. The plan put the cost of the upgrade at $52.5m over five years, including software subscriptions and staff time. The "on-demand human resource and financial management system" would replace two state legacy systems: Human Resources Information System (HRIS) in July 2021 and the Integrated Information for Iowa (I/3) in July 2022.

According to the State of Iowa's Enterprise Resource Planning Systems Optimization Plan [PDF], the I/3 finance system was developed on a CGI mainframe in 2002 and was last upgraded in 2012. It is no longer supported by the vendor due to the age of the system – basic support ended September 2020.

Meanwhile, HRIS was developed in the 1980s and written in 1950s-era COBOL. To make matters worse, the State Data Center flooded in 2018 and 2019, and in June that year, the mainframe shut down and the finance system could not be moved to a backup mainframe offsite. IT teams have since installed backup batteries "to stabilize [the] system."

Public-sector organisations have struggled with Workday implementations. The state of Maine has called for a review of its $54.6m project, while teaching assistants at Canada's McGill University spent Christmas waiting to be paid as the institution struggled with a new Workday HR and payroll system, according to their association. ®

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