Cook County Integrated Property Tax Implementation Project

The Cook County Integrated Property Tax Implementation project goal was to deliver an integrated property tax system that consolidated three offices – the Assessor’s, Clerk’s, and Treasurer’s. In the current and soon to be legacy system, all three offices essentially have worked in silos, feeding the County’s mainframe. The project aims to modernize the way Cook County gathers and administers property tax information into a singular enterprise system to improve visibility and efficiency.  

The legacy system relied heavily on the Bureau of Technology’s mainframe system to gather inputs from each office and provide it in formats that were necessary for each stage of the property tax calendar. 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. The existing process of administering property taxes is almost 40 years old at this point, with workflow add-ons to the system over the years. The aim for this project is to simplify by eliminating the extra steps where possible and streamline activities in one integrated system designed and developed in line with current technology. 

Cook County is quite unique from many other counties, due to its sheer size and number of parcels in nature. There are many activities and actions that are performed in Cook County that other jurisdictions simply do not experience and are not accounted for. With that knowledge comes the necessity for the technology system vendor to design for system requirements and modifications that have not been experienced beyond the County. These requirements present quality assurance challenges, that is – uniqueness of functional testing, validation and defect resolution present delay risks than were encountered by the system vendor in previous projects experience.   

When a client agency (Assessor’s Office) went live in October 2020 and Phase 1.2 in February 2021, the project team was presented with unique challenges that did not afford us the luxury of being able to use all the future state systems that we were scheduled to be ready for our system go-live. We had to develop a different and alternate operational plan in short order than we had planned for. Adding COVID-19 pandemic into the equation, the situation presented a lot of very unique challenges. All stakeholders were intently focused on moving the Assessor’s Office into a modernized system which combined with hard work and great effort resulted in a success in the end. 

My honest assessment is that our client’s (Assessor’s Office) work ethic and willingness to push through a very difficult project, reacting and adjusting accordingly to unplanned issues as they presented in short time enable success. I have been on projects that lacked as much enthusiasm and work ethic as the leadership of the Assessor’s Office and BOT provided during this project. Notwithstanding all the issues that were presented, their willingness to push this project past the finish line may sometimes appear underappreciated but is unique. All the credit goes to Cook County Assessor’s for this success.  

There were multiple delays to this project before I joined the project team. I am happy to report that my specific client (Assessor’s Office) did not incur a delay with their planned go live when I joined. The project continues to be on budget according to the original statement of work.  

Two lessons that come to mind learned from the project implementation are: 

  •  that communication and collaboration with all parties is extremely important – there needs to be a relationship that is developed that builds trust and engagement. If that doesn’t exist, the difficulty in successfully implementing a project is extremely hampered
  •  to stay open minded to multiple different approaches – With the number of requirements that are generated for a project this size, there will always be unplanned bumps on the road that will not show up on a project plan. Implementing an integrated system bringing three agencies together will naturally present dependencies that are not fleshed out during planning. There is need for quick action, open mindedness to diversity of new ideas and techniques in order to resolve conflicts that present.

There are quite a few project management methodologies that are used on this project. The best way to describe what is being used right now is a hybrid approach. We are using an agile methodology for our development workstream, however, there are some dependent/high-effort requirements that require a waterfall method. We use scrum techniques on a weekly basis to ensure we are accounting for each workstream, and we are staying in communication almost daily on each. There is almost a dozen separate workstreams on this project.  Given that the project is currently live in the production environment while Phase 2 implementing is ongoing, it is necessary that many different techniques are employed to ensure safety, security, and success.  

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. 

Zach Malloy – Senior Consultant