Delivering an Integrated Modern Solution for Property Tax

The Cook County Integrated Property Tax Implementation Project goal was to deliver an integrated property tax system that consolidated the assessor’s, clerk’s, and treasurer’s offices. Unique from many other counties due to its sheer size and number of parcels, all three offices have largely operated in silos while feeding the county’s mainframe. The project’s aim is to modernize the way Cook County collects and manages property tax data. 

The existing and soon-to-be legacy system relies heavily on gathering input from each office and providing it in formats that are necessary for each stage of the property tax calendar. Visibility and efficiency will increase by eliminating extra steps where possible and streamlining activities into one single integrated enterprise system designed and developed in line with current technology. 

Much of the work being done in the current state requires data transformation and normalization to obtain useful values that could be maintained and adjusted in the property tax calendar. It has been decades since the current system of collecting property taxes was implemented, with workflow add-ons over the years. Cook County engages in a variety of activities and acts that are simply absent or unaccounted for in other jurisdictions. This information necessitates that the technology system vendor design for system requirements and modifications that have not been experienced beyond the county. Due to the uniqueness of functional testing, validation, and defect resolution, these requirements pose issues for quality assurance that have not been experienced by the system vendor in similar projects. 

There are quite a few project management methodologies that are employed for this project. A hybrid approach is the most appropriate term to describe what is currently being used. An agile methodology is being used for the development workstream; however, there are some dependent or high effort needs that require a waterfall method. On this project, there are roughly a dozen separate workstreams. Weekly Scrum techniques are used to ensure that each workstream is accounted for and that communication is maintained daily.  A variety of strategies must be used to assure safety, security, and success because the project is currently live in the production environment while Phase 2 implementation is proceeding. 

When the assessor’s office went live in October 2020 and Phase 1.2 in February 2021. The project team faced unique challenges that prevented them from having access to all the upcoming state services that were expected to be ready for the system to go live. A different and alternate operational plan was developed in short order than what was planned for. The circumstances offered several extremely unusual issues when the COVID-19 pandemic was added to the equation. 

According to William Everett Senior Consultant Zach Malloy, “My chief take-home lesson is to always be open to different approaches.” “A one-size-fits-all approach is not necessarily right in project management; be open to changes, especially when your initial assumptions are challenged.” 

Two lessons learned from the project’s execution and implementation are: 

  • Communication and collaboration with all parties are extremely important; there needs to be a relationship that is developed that builds trust and engagement. If that does not exist, it is extremely difficult to successfully implement a project. 
  • With the number of requirements that are generated for a project of this size, there will always be unplanned bumps in the road that do not show up on the project plan. Implementing an integrated system by bringing three agencies together will naturally present dependencies that are not fully fleshed out during planning. To resolve existing conflicts, quick action and openness to a variety of new ideas and techniques are required. 

The assessment is that all stakeholders were intently focused on moving the assessor’s office into a modernized system, which was combined with hard work and great effort. The Assessor’s Office’s willingness to complete a challenging project while reacting and adjusting accordingly to unplanned issues enabled success. The project continues to be on budget, according to the original statement of work. 

Regarding the project status, Mirella Villafuerte, of the Cook County Assessor’s Office, shared that, “William Everett’s Project Management Resources leading the Cook County Assessor’s implementation of iasWorld software have been invaluable. The Integrated Property Tax System project, seeking to replace Cook’s 40-year mainframe with iasWorld, was already expected to be complex. No one expected it to be besieged by all of the activities typically found in a Force Majeure clause of a contract. With support provided by then Senior Consultant Zach Malloy (now Senior Project Manager), the Assessor’s Office successfully executed User Acceptance Testing, Training, Phase 1 Go-Live and post-Go-Live Support, in a mostly remote setting. Zach, and now Nelly Benitez, are currently helping the Assessor fully transition out of the mainframe, currently expected to occur 4th Quarter 2023.” 

Zach Malloy – Senior Consultant