Economic stimulus to generate infrastructure opportunities

Data conversion, remote monitoring, new business processes among prospects for contractors

Infrastructure work will drive many of the technology opportunities that government contractors see from the economic stimulus law, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Prime examples include health care-related information technology and an expansion of broadband networks.

“Fortunately for technology contractors, information technologies are integral to any modernization of public facilities — including schools — and mass transit systems,” said Chris Dixon, manager of state and local industry analysis at market research firm Input.

Opportunities related to federal IT infrastructures also are expected to be available for systems integrators.

For example, NASA’s IT Infrastructure Improvement Program to consolidate the agency’s IT environment is expected to exceed $10 billion. Through the Infrastructure Improvement Program, NASA will migrate much of its IT infrastructure support from a number of existing contracts into a consolidated set of procurements.

The space agency plans to release the requests for proposals for the project’s solicitations in April, with awards to follow this December.

Whether it's at the federal, state or local level, work related to IT infrastructure will be diverse, experts say. The following cases provide a glimpse of the type of work contractors can expect.

Project: Health IT, data migration

Customer: Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration 

Contractor: SRA International Inc.

In 2007, SRA was hired to improve the usefulness of data in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) used by CDC and FDA to monitor the safety of vaccinations.

SRA helped migrate the VAERS database and application to one that uses internationally recognized medical coding language from the Medical Dictionary for Regulatory Activities (MedDRA). The company also provided enhancements to address quality issues with existing data.

The original VAERS’ coding, named COSTART, had been in place since before 1995 and had limited terminology and levels of data. Government officials wanted to migrate to the MedDRA coding language because it has a better scheme with more terms and levels.

During the migration, SRA had to manage data coded under multiple versions of the existing COSTART codeset. Mapping several versions of data into MedDRA was especially complex, said Wayne Myers, director of public health informatics at SRA's Global Health Sector.

“Being vigilant about quality assurance is key,” Myers said. “On a project like this, the entire system is all about data quality. We rigorously balanced the desired quality level with budgeted resources.”

Frequent communication with the departments that depend on the data was also critical to the project’s success, Myers said. The stakeholders included IT personnel, daily operations employees and users.

Project: Network management

Customer: Hagerstown, Md.

Contractor: Kaseya

Hagerstown has a financial system that manages revenues and expenditures across a citywide network. Employees use the system to send bills to utility customers, cash checks or electronic payments, and mark bills as payments received. Customer service representatives also use the system to field phone calls and resolve billing or service issues.

The system had frequent outages that required the city’s IT staff to drive to remote offices to fix problems.

To fix the problem, city officials deployed a management solution from Kaseya that lets administrators access and manage distributed systems from a Web browser. Administrators use the system to remotely resolve application availability issues and implement software and security patches across all workstations.

Resolving technical support issues on Hagerstown’s network has dropped from two hours to 10 minutes since the system was installed, according to company officials.

Project: Enterprise printing and imaging

Customer: Texas Department of Agriculture (TDA)

Contractor: Hewlett-Packard Co.

Mike Cardwell, TDA’s chief information officer received ongoing complaints from regional offices that it was taking too much time to fix printers. Department officials chose a service in which HP manages the statewide printing and imaging infrastructure, including hardware, supplies and maintenance, for a monthly fee. 

HP's service options include a current usage assessment and development of a business plan for change. The department also received financial and procurement services to manage costs. The department also receives help with technology acquisition and retirement.

TDA had already consolidated its print environment, so instead of a full-scale planning assessment, the department asked HP for an informal review. The review identified an opportunity to consolidate a few fax machines.

The company also helped the department select devices for TDA’s statewide printing needs, which included high-volume color capabilities supplemented by black-and-white devices.

Moving to managed services resulted in service requests dropping from 24 hours to four, according to HP.

Project: Process automation

Customer: City of Norfolk, Va. 

Contractor: Metastorm

The city had more than 3,000 paper forms, ranging from parking permits to pet licenses. Managing all those processes manually became inefficient and unproductive.

One critical process the city wanted to automate was its permit request process — the procedure for requesting residential or commercial construction permits. Maintaining service levels and keeping up with permit requests became a challenge during revitalization efforts that brought new office, retail, residential and entertainment venue construction to the city.

The office responsible for permit processing has six people and processes 14,000 permits a year. In addition, much of the new development was taking place outside downtown Norfolk, which required applicants to drive downtown, sometimes as far as 20 miles, to visit multiple departments and submit an application.

The city selected business process management technology from Metastorm to automate its processes citywide. The software automates applications and lets employees design new, automated processes to replace existing paper ones or create entirely new processes to further streamline operations.

The city’s IT team supports the employee process design initiative by integrating Metastorm with the city’s internal databases and other existing systems. Metastorm is also integrated with a geographic information system to validate building locations and facilities.

Metastorm enabled the city’s Building Construction Services Division to open its first remote office so it could issue permits outside its main office in downtown Norfolk. 

The software expedited the permit request process and eliminated enormous amounts of paperwork and duplicated data. Departments that use the software can resolve internal issues without an applicant’s involvement because Metastorm enabled online collaboration among city workers.

Project: Power management

Customer: Greater Harris County, Texas

Contractor: Emerson Network Power Co.

The Greater Harris County 911 Emergency Network provides service for about 3.9 million residents in Harris and Fort Bend counties, and the 48 cities, including Houston, in those counties.

The Houston Emergency Center is served by independent power feeds from separate substations, so effective power transfer is important. In addition, the area is susceptible to hurricane-induced flooding, making reliable backup power critical in emergency situations.

To improve energy efficiency and reinforce the counties' emergency response capabilities, officials picked Emerson Network Power to install six automatic transfer switches to provide automatic power switching from power supplies that get disconnected or get too much current. 

Each power input feeds a redundant uninterruptible power supply system, which provides two layers of power redundancy, at the system level and in each UPS system.

The UPSes are equipped with 20-year batteries capable of providing four hours of runtime for the communications center. Those  batteries reduce system maintenance requirements because standard batteries need to be replaced every four years.

“The monitoring capabilities on the new equipment have been extremely valuable to us,” said Dan Darnell, systems administrator for Greater Harris County 911. “Now, if there is ever a problem with a remote unit, we can see what is going on at the operations center instead of driving 30 miles in the middle of the night.”

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Washington Technology.

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