Three years ago, Ted Mondale's firm promised a finished product in six months. Hennepin officials are losing patience.
Three years ago, Ted Mondale's new company signed a $550,000 contract with Hennepin County to provide a computer software program that was supposed to revolutionize the way data from real estate records is made available over the Internet.
The revolution is off to a slow start.
Though the county has paid $314,000 to Nazca Solutions Inc., which Mondale cofounded as part of a career move from politics into technology, there is still no program ready for public use.
Mondale had originally promised a finished product in six months and, following two years of tinkering, said it would be ready last December. "I think we're very close," he now says. "I don't think it's newsworthy that a highly complicated [technology] project may be a little late."
Although the software is working in some smaller locations, optimism about its promise is mixed with disappointment in Hennepin County. County Board Chairman Randy Johnson said he recently met with Mondale and asked "why aren't we there yet?" Though Johnson remains a supporter of the project, he acknowledged that "at a certain point, we're going to have to say, 'You haven't made it' ... and move on."
County technology officials said the product will not now be available until at least early next year, and said they incorrectly assumed -- as did Mondale -- that it could quickly be meshed with the county's own computer systems. "We are all really disappointed; we're sitting here three years later and we don't have it," said Jill Alverson, the county auditor and treasurer.
For Mondale, a onetime gubernatorial candidate, Metropolitan Council chair and son of a former vice president, the technology business has been challenging.
In the beginning, Nazca's promise was to make more detailed property data more readily available on the Internet for a fee, a move that would largely benefit real estate title companies, realtors and appraisers. Nazca's property-record computer portal would not only reduce the workload for county employees -- and, ostensibly, save taxpayers money -- but would also eliminate the need for title companies to send workers to courthouses to obtain property records.
Although many are still convinced of the product's promise, and say that the technology is not available elsewhere, some of Mondale's customers have soured on the company's ability to deliver it.
Others, like former Nazca employee Jason Blood, said Mondale simply oversold the company's ability to produce the software to all-too-eager public officials. "You've got someone like Mondale who's got all these political connections. He basically sold this product to 15 counties or so within the span of a year -- and we didn't even have a working product," he said.
Some counties that hired Mondale have moved on.
In Stearns County, one of the early counties to hire Nazca, the company's product is still being used by the county, though the two have since parted ways after a three-year partnership. But the county has hired an Iowa firm to deliver a more sophisticated version of the software. "It's not fast. Some of the functionality isn't there," Randy Schreifels, the county auditor and treasurer, said of the Nazca software.
Nazca's relationship with the Minnesota Counties Computer Cooperative, a group of eight counties that share technology, also ended a year ago when the cooperative wanted its money back, saying Nazca could never produce a finished product.
'Working well' in one county
Nazca has had success in Clark County, Wis., a small, rural county with just 33,000 residents and roughly 40 monthly users. "It's been working well," said Bob Shockley, a county computer analyst.
Since its creation four years ago, Nazca has yet to make a profit, although Mondale predicts that will change by next summer.
There have been other peaks and valleys. Mondale said Nazca has signed a deal with Affiliated Computer Services, a Texas company, to help market the product, and said Nazca has purposely withdrawn from some contracts to keep it from being overextended.
At one point, added Mondale, he also sued his investors, although he claims things were settled amicably. His ongoing investors, he said, are his cousin, Leo Mondale, and Jerry Trooien, the Twin Cities developer who recently failed to get approval for the Bridges of St. Paul riverfront project.