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The City of Atlanta, Lucas County, and New York State tell three different stories about managing the impact of COVID-19.
By Margaret Lindquist | October 2020
From the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, states, counties, and cities have taken the lead in trying to keep their citizens safe and healthy. Local government leaders also have to make sure critical functions that help people through the economic fallout keep running—from employee payrolls to unemployment and SNAP payments, and more. Below, we share stories from three levels of government—New York State; Lucas County, Ohio; and the City of Atlanta. Each talks about the role cloud computing played in opening up new opportunities to serve their citizens while continuing their work amid stay-at-home orders.
In March 2020, nearly 100 National Guard soldiers were assigned to an unusual duty—answering calls to New York State’s COVID-19 response line. They helped citizens with a wide range of questions, from physical and mental health support to how to renew a driver’s license online. The call system went online in just four days, built by Oracle partner Speridian using Oracle CX Service. Altogether, New York created 4,000 new accounts for people in the call center, and because many of them were unfamiliar with call center work and also newly working from home, the system’s interface needed to be simple.
“Move to the cloud as soon as possible. Don’t delay. Don’t procrastinate.”
Because Oracle CX Service is cloud-based, call center workers needed just a web browser and an internet connection to get started. The system could be constantly refreshed with third-party, COVID-related information from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization, the New York Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, and other sources. “Time was of the essence,” says James Gazzale, assistant public information officer for the New York State Department of Tax and Finance. “We needed a solution that could be easily integrated with internal and external systems, yet simple and intuitive enough to be quickly adopted by thousands of workers.” Oracle CX Service, he says, “helped us meet the needs of New York State” during the crisis.
Lucas County, Ohio, started a major application implementation in 2019, replacing PeopleSoft Financials with Oracle Cloud ERP and Oracle Cloud Enterprise Performance Management. The county was looking to modernize a paper-based process, consolidate disconnected systems, and make working from home possible for county employees. That last goal turned out to be essential in March 2020 due to COVID-19. County employees could log in to Oracle Cloud without a VPN connection, on a PC or phone. “It’s just as fast as if I'm sitting in the office,” says Tony Stechshulte, Lucas County’s director of accounting. “We’ve been functioning remotely since the start of the COVID crisis, and we’ll stay remote for as long as necessary. It’s saved us.” Ditching paper-based processes also proved critical to the county’s operations amid COVID. “We're talking about staying remote for another six months because with the Oracle system, it's been that smooth,” Stechshulte says. “I really don't know what we would have done without it.”
In 2019, the City of Atlanta, Georgia, made a bold move: It migrated all finance and human resources to the cloud, a shift aimed at fundamentally changing the city’s finance, HR, and procurement processes. "From the get-go, we decided it would be easier to implement best practices within Oracle Cloud applications and workflows," says John Gaffney, deputy chief financial officer for the City of Atlanta. The city implemented Oracle Cloud ERP for finance and purchasing, Oracle Cloud Enterprise Performance Management for budgeting and performance management, and Cloud Oracle Human Capital Management for core human resources, talent management, and payroll.
Almost immediately, the city saw one huge benefit from the implementation—freeing employees from their desks, including giving employees who travel or work in the field the same access to systems that they had in their offices. The true benefits of the Oracle system came into sharp relief on March 16, 2020, when the global COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a stay-at-home requirement for all city employees. All finance, procurement, and HR staff transitioned to 100% remote work without impacting their organizations’ efficiency or effectiveness.
Working from their homes, the payroll staff was able to pay employees electronically (payroll accounts for almost 70% of the city’s budget) and make all the payroll configuration changes related to COVID-19 without a hitch. They rapidly created new accounts and rules for payments based on reimbursements from FEMA and other COVID-related factors, such as hazard pay for essential workers and purchases of masks, hand sanitizer, and other PPE supplies. Alfonso Pinan, the City of Atlanta’s director of financial services systems, offers one piece of advice to city leaders considering modernizing their systems: “Move to the cloud as soon as possible. Don’t delay. Don’t procrastinate.”
Photography: Joe Sohm/Universal Images Group via Getty Images and Artyom Geodakyan/TASS via Getty Images