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Rhode Island government still using typewriters and microfiche

Target 12

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Over the past four decades the world has greatly modernized how to collect, store and distribute data. But Rhode Island remains frozen in time in some vital areas of government.

State Human Resources Analyst Kelly Durkin-Murray started working for the state when electric typewriters and dot-matrix printers were the future.

Some 40 years later, she’s had to train millennials who land state jobs on how to use the machines.

“I trained a couple of younger employees,” Durkin-Murray said. “They were quite shocked. And their question was, what is that?”

State workers still write out their hours on time cards that are stored in stacks of boxes in a number of government offices.

Every sort of personnel issue you can imagine, from name changes to new addresses, also starts on paper.

The information is eventually typed out, then printed on dinosaur dot-matrix printers.

The five-ply paper gets separated and hand-delivered to other state offices.

Kyle Adamonis, executive director of human resources for the Department of Administration, went to to work for the state about two years ago.

“Human resources takes those forms and then they enter all that information in the [computer] system, after they make sure the calculations on those forms are correct,” Adamonis said. “It takes far more time than it should.”

Adding to the inefficiencies is the fact that older, long-term personnel document storage is on microfiche.

“It’s really old,” Adamonis said.

Expensive, too, when you add up the cost of the paper, ink and maintenance, since technicians who can repair the 40-plus-year-old machines are not always easy to find.

The current budget proposal includes a line item for a new Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system to modernize state HR, payroll, finance functions, grants management and other tasks.

If approved, the cost would be $33.3 million over 10 years, with $1.5 million of that allocated next fiscal year.

The total cost of the project is projected at $93 million, minus $37.7 million in what the DOA said would be “cost savings.”

The rest of the total would be comprised of $15.8 million in federal funding and $6.2 million in “restricted or other funds.”

The request has already sparked worried comparisons to the United Health Infrastructure Project (UHIP), a $600 million system for various benefit programs that was plagued by problems after it launched in 2016.

State Chief Digital and Information Officer Bijay Kumar emphasizes that unlike UHIP, which he says was custom built for Rhode Island, the ERP system officials plan to buy has a track record.

“It has been tested in the private sector, the public sector, in thousands of companies around the world,” Kumar said.

If the funding comes through, Kumar said “pre-implementation” would take about 18 months, with another 39 months needed to make the system fully operational.

“The old system will be turned off only after we completely test and make sure that the new system works as planned,” Kumar said.

Rhode Island is one of 12 states with antiquated data systems, according to the DOA. Seven of them, including Florida and Illinois, are currently trying to modernize.

Send tips to Target 12 Investigator Walt Buteau at wbuteau@wpri.com and follow him on Twitter @wbuteau.

Eli Sherman contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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