By Greg Price
After a lengthy presentation by Intelligenz Solutions Software director of sales Scott Sclater, Taber Recreation Board has recommended to town council at its meeting last Thursday, it authorize administration to purchase its required soft/hardware. The motion passed by a 5-1 vote at its March 3 recreation board meeting. Recreation board member and town councillor Andrew Prokop was the lone dissenting vote. Recreation board member Joel Mills was absent from the meeting.
Voicing concerns over its $130,000 price tag, town council had referred a decision on a new recreation management software program to the Taber Recreation Board for its input at its Feb. 8 meeting. The town’s current CLASS recreation management software has reached the end of its life cycle, and as such, municipalities have been looking at other products. The Town of Taber collaborated with the City of Lethbridge and University of Lethbridge on a Request for Proposals (RFP), which had both parties submit their software needs to the City of Lethbridge’s Procurement Department for the RFP process. The RFP closed on Nov. 20, 2015.
Three vendors were evaluated and selected for further discussions to proceed, which included Active Network, Intelligenz, and Perfect Mind.
Following these discussions and further presentations, it was clear to town administration that Perfect Mind would not be able to provide the level of service with regard to facility bookings and management that was currently provided by CLASS, while Active Network’s product offering was considered more advanced than the town’s requirements in relation to cost factors.
After consideration, all three partners selected Intelligenz, taking into account cost, functionality, efficiencies, and capability for future growth. Originally growing out of town council’s concerns regarding providing an online registration solution for recreation users, the project was only allocated $30,000 by the town, which would require council to endorse an additional $100,000 if it wished to see the project move forward.
“This is nothing unique to Taber. There have been several organizations that have jumped from CLASS to other products all over Canada,” said Aline Holmen, director of recreation for the Town of Taber to open the discussion period prior to the motion being passed. “We have been invested in CLASS software for 17 years. This product has the functionality we are looking for, it would make our operations much more efficient. Although the cost is quite high initially, down the road we will see some efficiencies, some innovations and our customer service will really increase.”
The town’s IT manager, Tom Moffat, stressed that the end of life for its current CLASS program for 2017 means it will have to be shutdown and cannot be operated.
“When we say end of life, we mean end of life, it will no longer be useable,” said Moffat, adding in the computer world, you need constant updates to battle security issues to make sure town information is safe. “Otherwise, you are vulnerable to hacking. Also, in the computer field, everything else around you is changing, the operating systems are changing, the server operator systems are changing. The various types of software and hardware are changing, so if you stop updating your software, pretty soon it will not work.”
Recreation board chairman Luke Wijna reiterated the high cost of the software that may not sit well will council or taxpayers, but inquired what the alternative is if the town simply continues to go down its current path.
“Are going to go back to paper/pen, going back to stone and chisel? What is going tot be the answer to what all that we do if we do not go with this program,” said Wijna. “We would have no choice (after end of life of CLASS) to run manually. I don’t think anyone really understands what we ha in place currently. We have a whole list of what CLASS does and registration is one bullet point of 50 that our program currently does.”
Devon Wannop, director of finance for the Town of Taber added going back to manual would be going to Excel spreadsheets.
“There are a lot of things Excel can’t do unless you know how to make it work. So a lot of people at the pool, no offence, are not finance people. They wouldn’t know accounts receivable, they wouldn’t know what an accounts payable is, so they would be doing the manual cash receipts or whatever and manually input it, while with this (new) program, it would automatically sync everything with financial transactions,” said Wannop. “Also with Excel, you are prone to errors going manually. You wouldn’t have the same controls as you would with this software of this calibre. With a cash receipt, how do you know they are not just taking cash and not recording it. You could do that very easily with an Excel/manual form to misappropriate any cash receipt you bring in. With this program, there’s many different checks and balances that you have to ensure it goes through properly in the software.”
Not having the best controls in place, it could put up town financial statements to increased scrutiny from auditors according to Wannop.
Town councillor and recreation board member Randy Sparks inquired if the Intelligenz Solutions software was overkill with what the overall town needs were given its size, or will the town actually use all the offerings that come with the software.
“Not being an expert in this and thinking dollars and cents, it will improve efficiencies, but is this a program that will be totally used by the Town of Taber? That will go a long way to me recommending this,” said Sparks.
“Will we use all this? Absolutely,” replied Holmen.
Echoing Wijna’s sentiments earlier, Sparks pressed administration on its opinion on how dire the current situation is if no new solution is found for the Town of Taber’s current software situation.
“Would you agree with this statement? That the Town of Taber, with its current system is really backed into a corner with no light at the end f the tunnel? Because our current system, if we stayed with it, will cause huge issues for everybody with the Town of Taber when it caves in,” said Sparks.
“Yes,” replied Holmen.
Wijna brought up the ability to offset some of the costs by contracting out some of the town’s services with community groups that may not have online registration.
“I was thinking about that that same question with like the curling rink. It’s a lot more justified speeding the money when you have a lot more uses for this program,” added Danielle Hansen, recreation board member.
Recreation board member Andrew Prokop remained firm in his viewpoint that Intelligenz Solutions was a Cadillac system when the town only needed a Volkswagen system.
“It comes down to money again. We budgeted $30,000 in the capital budget, and now it will be roughly $142,000 (factoring in annual cost of $11,500 after software and hardware cost). That’s a huge difference,” said Prokop. Are back into looking into capital reserves? (Wannop) was warning sometime back before the approval of the budget about getting into capital reserve funds that were getting seriously depleted. That’s a huge concern for me. I don’t want to see anything crash where we get into pen and paper scenarios. I’m not against improvements, but that’s but that’s more than four times the amount that was budgeted. If you put that into perspective, if we increased everything we budgeted for by four times, the town would be broke in no time.”
As finance director, Wannop assured the recreation board he is not a guy that likes to spend money.
“I’m the last guy that wants to spend money. But, with the inefficiencies that can be caused not only with my staff, but the public staff, with overtime there would be things that would come up with the salary costs,” said Wannop. “And once we get the approval to go ahead with this program ,there are grants available out there because we are doing it collaboratively with the University of Lethbridge and the City of Lethbridge. But the caveat is that it is approved by council before we do that grant application. There are additional costs with our present system if we stay with CLASS that we will occur that offset some of the cost of a new system.”
And with the increased inefficiencies with the new system, Holmen added it could free up time for staff to work on other initiatives.
“We can use staff more efficiently. There are a lot of things I’d like my staff to do that they just don’t have the time to do. Sometimes projects sit for months because we don’t have enough hours in a day,” said Holmen.