By JUDY SHERIDAN
Parker County Commissioners recently awarded a contract for new judicial software to Tyler Technologies and authorized County Attorney John Forrest to negotiate it.
The county will lease, rather than purchase, the software, known as Odyssey. A purchase would have required additional hardware and training to be operated in-house.
The request for proposal analysis — which evaluated both the traditional purchase model and software as a service — showed an estimated cost to the county of $3.1 million for the latter, with about $1.1 million for implementation and about $396,000 per year for the next five years.
Radford said implementation costs would actually be a little less. In addition, about $250,000 — paid to Tyler annually to maintain the current system — would be deducted from the annual costs.
High points of the new system will be ease of use, integration with third party projects, e-filing for attorneys for civil cases, the ability for document scanning for all judicial offices and the ability to automatically create cases for the Department of Public Safety, according to John Galbraith, of Tyler Technologies.
“We were on the fence, as to whether to go in house or with software as a service,” Information Technology Director Trish Radford told the court. “But I met with the tech people, and now I’m convinced that software as a service is the way Parker County should go.”
Going in house would require adding 16 servers to her office, Radford said, requiring more air conditioning and other changes. The high workload would necessitate hiring another person.
“With software as a service the only thing we’d have to maintain would be one server,” she said. “The [software] images would be here but would also be uploaded to the site in Dallas, like all the other data would be. All the data is backed up in Dallas and then backed up in the state of Maine, every day.”
Radford said Tyler had told her the county has more infrastructure in place than most of its software as a service clients. “Our new Internet service provider has given us 100 megs of bandwidth, and we can go up to 250 megs if we need to.”
Radford also said that the system was flexible and could be accessed from home or anywhere.
Judge Mark Riley said that the county could control part of the cost of leasing the software by limiting the number of users to those who really need it.
He said the decision made sense given the relatively low rate of growth the county government is likely to experience.
“It’s not likely we’ll add 15 or 20 employees per year,” he said. “It makes sense to do this rather than to make an assumption that we’re going to grow that department to grow these other things.”
Radford also noted that the purchase option would require the county to plan on hardware replacement, probably every 5 years.
Riley said the county would fund the lease by using a combination of savings from next year’s budget and financing.
Forrest noted that the county would save $43,000 by approving the contract before the end of the year.
Commissioner Dusty Renfro challenged Galbraith, asking why the discount was not greater, given the year-end tax advantage to Tyler, but Galbraith said he had done the best he could do.
“More and more counties are leasing software as you need it,” he said, “versus going out and paying these high upfront investment costs.”
Trey Loftin, 43rd district court judge, thanked the court for taking action on the software.
“The Texas Supreme Court a week ago decided it was time to join the next century,” he said. “The district courts, county courts of law, statutory county courts and some probate courts are now required to do e-filing. They’ve given us a year to prepare for that.”
He said commissioners had been wise, thoughtful and frugal in every aspect of county government.
“I haven’t seen any crazy expenditures in anybody’s department. John Forrest, frankly your office sometimes looks like a homeless shelter. Our district attorney’s office is in the attic, my office is used as a hallway … and everything’s fine, nobody complains.”
It’s been more than six years since county personnel first watched demos of Odyssey software; the county’s aging Legacy product will be phased out completely by 2016.
In June, commissioners appeared ready to purchase the software, but met with resistance from the sheriff’s office, whose representatives expressed dissatisfaction with Legacy, also a Tyler product. Radford told the court at the time that the sheriff’s office could purchase a different but compatible product, which they still plan to do.