“We Didn’t Have Time”: Inside TABC’s $ 8.5 Million “Rocky” Web Launch and Its Impact on Texas Business

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AUSTIN (KXAN) – Workers at the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission were approaching a deadline in August. For two years, the agency worked on creating a new web portal for bar and restaurant owners to apply for liquor licenses.

This was to be a big step forward from a system that required owners to apply for and renew their licenses in person.

“For years, I would travel to headquarters for a renewal and take two copies, stamped,” says Bob Woody, who owns more than 20 locations in Austin. “I would post it here, give it to all the managers, to everyone and we would be safe.”

In 2019, the Texas legislature allocated nearly $ 10 million to TABC to update – what it called – an “outdated” system. (The agency had to repay $ 1.3 million midway through development due to budget cuts, according to TABC’s chief financial officer.) But the money came with a deadline.

TABC had to update its rules, application forms – and put the new website up and running by September 1, 2021. Two years after taking over the project, the rollout of the new system, called AIMS, was rolled out. been anything but fluid.

“Some were forced to open without a permit”

Almost two months after its release, licensed consultants, business lawyers and commissioners who had answered calls about the problematic AIMS deployment rang at a commission meeting in October on the myriad of errors with the system.

A Dallas-based attorney who helps businesses apply for alcohol-related permits said virtually every encounter with the new AIM system was a “technology glitch or a communication glitch.”

“Since this launch, some [clients] were forced to open without a permit and unable to have their AIMS requests processed, ”said David Denney, who was invited by the commission to share his experience in October. Denney added that TABC’s licensing department has worked diligently to create workarounds for their customers.

His colleague told commissioners that instructions for AIMS, in general, were unclear, that halfway through filling out requests, the portal forced them out, and emails asking for advice no have not received a response for a week in some cases.

“Not only have we run into issues, but we know with a virtual certainty that moms and dads who try to do it on their own will almost certainly encounter them,” said Chelsea Masters, attorney for the Denney Law Group at the commission in October. 28.

Austin attorney Kyle Hill told the commission the road has been “rocky” since the inception of AIMS.

“The truth for us is that we have had dozens of licensing issues since September 1. The truth for us is that it is because we found the end for things to be dumped in the system.” Hill said.

TABC Chairman Kevin Lilly, Commissioner Jason Boatright and Commissioner Hasan Mack also expressed concerns after hearing from business owners – and licensed attorneys since the deployment.

“There is the suggestion that the problems are small and a willingness to minimize the problems,” TABC commissioner Jason Boatright said at a meeting on Oct. 28. “People who have contacted me say ‘look, the thing is not working. It just is not.

TABC spokesman Chris Porter said that since September, TABC has responded to more than 9,200 requests for help from businesses statewide. However, Porter clarifies that not all of them fit the definition of a complaint. As of November, the agency had identified 64 problems with the system. TABC says it is still working to resolve 17 of these issues.

“We ran out of time”

In 2019, TABC hired Texas-based web developer Sistema Technologies to create the new licensing portal. The company boasts on its website that it has developed a website for at least one other Texas government agency.

According to TABC, Sistema Technologies will not be fined or penalized for defects in the AIMS system. However, the company is contractually bound to bear the costs of repairing these defects. TABC will pay for updates to the websites, according to Porter. Already, the agency has spent over $ 67,000 on system updates. Porter says the agency anticipated the need for updates and budgeted $ 64,000 to do so.

“Defects and post-launch issues are integral to a transformational technology launch like this,” Porter said. “The vendor also went above and beyond to make changes, at one point, rolling out major updates to AIMS twice a week for about five weeks. “

In October, Rheda Moseley, TABC’s chief information officer, told commissioners the agency was only able to test the website with industry leaders for 8 days before it went live across the board. State. At the time, TABC was still working to migrate the data to the new system.

“The money runs out on August 31 at the end of the biennium. We had to have everything done and ready to deploy. We didn’t have that time, ”Moseley said. “If I had had 60 days or even 30 days that I could have taken with the industry, I would have jumped on it.”

Porter said the money the state legislature allocated to the agency for its technology transition must be spent on schedule – and the agency risked further delaying the process.

Porter said the agency has extended renewals, waived late fees and accepted paper applications from companies having a problem with AIMS.

“Businesses rely on TABC to get their active licenses and be able to go into business and any barriers to that – whether it’s a statutory barrier or something like AIMS where they’re not used to the system or the system is not working properly – we take this very seriously, ”Porter said. “We understand that it will be a question of livelihood for this business owner.”

Porter said 60% of eligible businesses have successfully registered their licenses and permits using AIMS. According to TABC, in October alone, nearly 3,000 business entities registered their permits.

“I think the number of people going into business in Texas has not been greatly affected by the launch of AIMS and people are still able to do what they do, in slightly different forms, and in some cases we have to resort to these older ways of getting people into the business, “Porter said.” What we believe, once people get it in place and use it, will be easier to use overall. ”

Outside the Blind Pig on Austin’s 6e St, Woody says the web portal has worked for his businesses. He attributes the site’s errors to growing pains necessary for the condition.

“Everything is difficult at first,” said Woody. “I am in favor of it. I think this is a good thing. I think over time we’ll come out more positive.

A worker delivers alcohol to Woody’s bar, The Blind Pig, on Austin’s 6th St. (KXAN Photo / Richie Bowes)
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