Governors Look to Integrate Portals, Legacy Systems
Governors Look to Integrate Portals, Legacy Systems
By William Welsh, Staff Writer
With state portal sites finally getting off the ground, governors now are setting their sights on the task of integrating their states' legacy computer systems with the Web.
Governors attending a key technology task force meeting in Pennsylvania in July generally agreed that, as a prerequisite for obtaining e-government's promised benefits, their states must begin integrating their back-end information processing systems with the assortment of e-services now offered on their Web sites.
Such work is expected to present lucrative opportunities for information technology systems integrators.
The states cannot do this on their own, said Mike Emmi, chief executive officer and chairman of Systems & Computer Technology Corp., Malvern, Pa. There is a "huge business for outside suppliers to come in and help," he said.
Emmi, along with about 15 other industry officials, discussed the issue with governors at a July 10 meeting of the governors' Information Technology Task Force examining how the states can use the Internet to improve government operations and services. The National Governors' Association task force met during the association's annual meeting in State College, Pa.
"We've already seen that the states are attracted to the idea of portals," said Jane Wiseman, senior manager of government strategy for Andersen Consulting of Chicago. The states "are only just beginning to realize the benefits of actually integrating back office systems."
A study released earlier this year by Andersen showed that most states are using the Internet to publish information, transact services or interact with citizens, but not to integrate operations from beginning to end. A survey of motor vehicle agencies, for example, found that while 46 of the 50 states had a Web page pertaining to agency functions, only one-quarter of the states actually processed motor vehicle functions over the Internet.
When the volume of Internet transactions is low, it is feasible to continue performing manual work in the back office, said Wiseman. But when the volume grows, states will feel the pressure to upgrade and integrate legacy systems.
"The question is whether states can take this to the next level and basically transform government the way the private sector has changed its structures to be more efficient, effective and customer-focused," said Thom Rubel, NGA program director for state information technology.
The states have made "good progress" so far toward automating state services, but the governors also know that more work needs to be done to bring services online and integrate front- and back-end systems to produce a truly streamlined process, he said.
"The integration of an online system with existing mainframe legacy systems is really going to be the key challenge for e-government to really take off," said Rishi Sood, principal analyst for state and local governments for Dataquest, a research arm of the GartnerGroup Inc. of Stamford, Conn. "This is the most important piece of the puzzle."
Public-sector entities take various approaches to legacy system modernization, from wholesale replacement to middleware integration, depending on clients' needs and budgets, said Greg Pellegrino, director of e-government solutions for Deloitte Consulting.
"A typical modernization project for replacing mainframe legacy systems is an eight-figure program for government [agencies] that takes from 18 to 24 months," said Pellegrino. For its part, New York-based Deloitte has more than 100 projects involving some aspect of legacy systems modernization at the state and local government level, according to Pellegrino.
KPMG Consulting of McLean, Va., is providing data warehousing for state agencies in Maryland, Oregon and Pennsylvania, said Bill Blaustein, KPMG's managing director for state and local data warehousing. This work is not yet tied into transactions at the portal, but doing so would not be a difficult step to take, he said.
KPMG is installing middleware for private-sector clients and looking for similar opportunities in the public sector, he said.
The total outlay of what states are planning to spend linking their legacy systems to the Web is unclear, said Ray Bjorklund, a consultant with Federal Sources Inc., a market research company in McLean.
But the bulk of work likely will be performed by leading consulting firms such as Andersen Consulting, Deloitte and KPMG, as well as by the integrators that built and installed the original information systems, such as IBM Corp. and Unisys Corp., he said.
David Moon, Utah's chief information officer, agreed with the assessment, saying the states are likely to choose systems integrators or large software companies for this work rather than the smaller e-government companies.
"I don't think the states can look right now to the new breed of dot-com government companies for this work," he said. Even states now using those e-government companies "are still going to rely on a more traditional systems integrator to help streamline back-end systems."
Connecticut Gov. John Rowland suggested that much of this and other types of IT work should be outsourced to the private sector. The states should "get out of the business of information technology" because "it would take us forever to do it, and do it right," he told other governors at the task force meeting.
The Republican governor last year canceled a controversial plan to outsource all of his state's IT functions to Electronic Data Systems Corp. when the two sides could not reach agreement on a deal worth about $1.35 billion over 7 years.
Not all governors agreed with Rowland's view.
"You can't outsource everything, because [state employees] need to be technology competent," said Wyoming Governor Jim Geringer, also a Republican.
Other states seem equally cautious about outsourcing. Pennsylvania, for example, out-sources its mainframe and midrange systems but develops the applications for those systems in-house, said Charles Gerhards, Pennsylvania's deputy secretary for information technology.
"We believe in selective outsourcing where it makes sense and is not a core business function of the government," Gerhards said.
"If you want to take the approach of outsourcing everything, it will cost you more in the long run than developing expertise in-house," Moon added.
However the states proceed, government and industry officials agree that integrating Web services with a state's information systems can improve dramatically government opera-
Gerhards, for example, said the turnaround time for portal transactions, perhaps four to six weeks, could be cut to as little as one or two days with such an integration.
Moon suggested that the need to upgrade legacy systems must be considered on a case-by-case basis with regard to which can generate the greatest return on investment.
"If you have a department of motor vehicles that is registering hundreds of thousands [of motorists] each year, then there is a lot of payback to move that to an online process," said Moon.