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Commonwealth's Counties

Associate Member SPOTLIGHT: Keystone Information Systems

A comprehensive financial, human resource, and revenue system, aimed at small to medium-sized Virginia counties.

Keystone Information Systems has helped small-sized to medium-sized Virginia counties replace the systems that underpin the financial and business operations of a county government. As many county IT staffs know, this is a major undertaking and usually done every 20 years or so. However, technologies, platforms, and system capabilities continue to advance dramatically, which provides the opportunity to revisit business processes in concert with systems upgrades now.

This sort of initiative is especially challenging for smaller counties with more limited IT and other resources. And it is important to understand that while Virginia’s county governments share a lot in common, when it comes to the realm of financial and revenue management software products it is certainly not a case of “one size fits all” in terms of the software products, or the vendor approach to an implementation.

Much of that has to do with the “expectations” of the software. Utilizing current technologies, systems can automate a great deal more “understanding” about business processes and workflow. But the difference in the number of people and the division of functions have a lot of bearing on how these software capabilities fit a county’s operation. For example, if a system managed by a single person expects a “hand-off” between personnel or departments to complete a process such as hiring a new employee – the “upgraded” system may slow down work by adding more steps (screens and data fields) required to complete the same task. This goes against the goal of increased efficiency as the return on the investment in new systems.

Keystone fulfills the needs of small-sized to mid-sized local governments with the development and ongoing enhancement of a comprehensive suite of application software for financial, human resources and revenue operations with features specific to this segment of the market. Keystone has also limited its focus to just three states for local government (and five states for school division work). This speaks to Keystone’s recognition of the specialized needs across different states, especially in property tax and related functions, as well as the company’s commitment to deep subject matter expertise in the very specific needs of its limited set of state markets.

Keystone’s approach to working with small-sized to mid-sized counties also considers a depth of understanding of a county’s limited resources, and the implementation and support services needed. Keystone guides the customer through a consultative approach, offering “best practices” as identified in its work with other similar local governments, many having come from the same former systems/platforms, to develop an implementation that does indeed produce value and a return on investment in terms of increased efficiency and service to constituents.

Keystone has several municipal and county government and school division customers in the Commonwealth, ranging in population from 7,500 to 75,000. One representative site for all that Keystone has to offer to Virginia local governments is Pittsylvania County, including the Schools Division and Social Services. Pittsylvania County uses Keystone’s integrated, Windows Server-based software suite for: Budget Development, Purchasing, Accounts Payable, General Ledger and Reporting, Cash Management/Bank Reconciliation, Fixed Asset Tracking, Payroll, Human Resources, Leave and Benefits. The Commissioner of the Revenue and Treasurer’s offices use Keystone’s applications for Real and Personal Property Tax Assessment, (including an integrated Real Estate Appraisal/CAMA module), Tax Billing and Collections, Solid Waste Billing, Meals Taxes and Virginia State Estimated and Income Tax processing. For Inspections and Permits, Pittsylvania County uses Keystone’s Community Development software including a recently-released Field/Mobile Inspections application.

The Schools likewise use the suite of Financial, Payroll and HR applications, and the Payroll and HR software is used for the Social Services employees as well. Keystone’s total product suite also includes applications for Business Licenses and Water and Sewer Billing.

Pittsylvania County and Schools have, over time, added modules from the Keystone’s software suite, representing the value they are receiving from the integration of the applications. Recently, for example, the County increased responsiveness to its constituents by implementing Keystone’s self-service public access real estate web site, which automatically updates a great amount of data about properties being tracked on the system. Also, Keystone’s pricing model of one-time software license and implementation fees, regardless of whether the system is operated on premises or hosted off-site, is unique in the industry and increasingly relevant to the budgetary constraints of the market tier Keystone serves. This has also provided a great value, and return on investment for Pittsylvania County (and other Keystone users). This pricing structure does not change based upon the county’s decision to have the system hosted off-site, a move which Pittsylvania County, Schools and Social Services recently made. This transition resulted in an identical software version and system functionality but without recurring software ‘rental’ fees, common in the industry (referred to as “Software as Services”).

In Keystone’s pricing model, a small system hosting fee is added, by the hosting provider, to Keystone’s normal annual support and maintenance charges. This hosting fee is fully justified by the savings realized by the county in hardware/system software upgrade costs and IT personnel resource. The hosted option also fully addresses system redundancy, back-ups, and disaster recovery. Over the expected life of the system, the savings afforded by this unique pricing model are significant and, Keystone believes, are appropriate to local government organizations of this size.
When considering an enterprise resources system transition, a county would do well to consider the ‘tiering’ in this market of available systems and vendors, and to thoroughly evaluate those with a focus on counties of similar size and scope to their own. When asked about this article, Pittsylvania County Treasurer Vincent Shorter commented, “The people are as great as the product!” Shorter noted that quality customer service is of increased importance as it is harder to find these days. “Keystone made me a believer,” Shorter said.


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