Tech Success: Informatica helps Core lock up Colo. work

Data extraction software keeps tabs on inmate population

ITsolutions in action

Project: Inmate information monitoring system

Agency: Colorado Department of Corrections

Partners: Core Integration Partners Inc., Denver

Informatica Corp., Redwood City, Calif.

Goal: Build an information system to keep tabs on inmates across all the facilities overseen by the corrections department.
 

Obstacle: Different facilities within the department set up different databases. Consequently, data in one facility's database often would not be accessible by another's, rendering vital personnel information unavailable when an inmate was transferred.

 
Solution: Instead of investing in a costly, single, systemwide database, the department purchased a solution that used the old databases in conjunction with data warehouse and extracting, transforming and loading tools from Informatica.

Payoff: The department saved $150,000 in implementation costs by not replacing the databases, which were old but still functioning. In addition to having all inmate data available across the department, reports that draw from the statistical information available can be generated quickly.

Harry Piccariello, director of business development for Informatica.

Olivier Douliery

With 16,000 inmates spread out among 20 institutions, the Colorado Department of Corrections needed a way to make inmate records available to all its facilities. It also needed a way to more quickly compile statistical reports.

But instead of replacing old -- but still working -- databases to meet these new demands, the corrections department saved money by bringing those legacy systems into the modern era, thanks to extracting, transforming and loading tools from Informatica Corp., Redwood City, Calif.

"We did some analysis on how much [it would cost] to do a massive redesign of that particular system. It ended up that building a data warehouse to extract information from was actually a cheaper solution," said Jerry Hunter, director of application development for the Colorado Department of Corrections.

Estimates for building and populating a new database ran about $500,000. Core Integration Partners Inc. of Denver was able to offer the same functionality for $350,000 by using Informatica's software coupled with a data warehouse solution. In addition, the solution gave the department the ability to quickly generate reports.

"The real savings was making the information on every inmate available to everyone when they wanted to see it," Hunter said.

The problem the department faced was formidable. It had five data sources, each a custom solution holding physical and mental health data, arrest records and other statistical data.

Many of the information structures in place were decades old, having been transferred to successively newer databases many times. As a result, many of the data fields, often originating from Cobol-based hierarchical databases, were archaic; they foiled any attempt to generate reports using standard decision support software.

"Each time we needed to answer a new question, we would have to write a new program to answer that question," Hunter said. And new reports on topics such as inmate populations or drug program attendance are in high demand.

And since getting new report programs took so long, personnel started to develop their own parallel databases to get their reports out on a timely schedule. This led to duplicate data-entry systems.

"That would work fine within that particular facility," Hunter said, "but inmates move fairly quickly from one place to another. So receiving facilities would not have that information on a what a new inmate did at the old facility."

Often, the local systems were updated, but the departmentwide one wasn't. "The whole thing was beginning to turn into a real mess," Hunter said.

So in 1999, the department looked at purchasing a new systemwide database. It estimated the cost at $500,000 -- an expensive proposition for replacing perfectly working databases. "The data-entry programs were working fine," Hunter said.

Instead, the department looked into a system where the data would be moved nightly from the legacy databases into a data warehouse, where anyone could get it and easily generate reports from it.

Core, an Informatica partner, was the winning integrator. For Hunter, what Informatica provided was the ability to quickly generate reports from a wide variety of data sets.

"Our database administrators were impressed by what it could do. It's a virtually point-and-click method, where we don't have to write any code" Hunter said.

Core, which focuses on developing data warehouse and business intelligence solutions, uses Informatica's extracting, transforming and loading tools in most of its solutions, according to Scott Crownover, director of development for the company.

"They are easy to maintain, and you get your return of investment out of them," Crownover said.

For Informatica, partnerships with integrators such as Core are key to success, said Harry Piccariello, director of business development for the company.

"We're a very partner friendly company. Everything we do in the public sector goes through an integrator of some kind," Piccariello said. Federal sales account for approximately 15 percent of Informatica's revenue. In 2001, Informatica had revenue of $197 million and a loss of $45 million.

"For every dollar integrators make by selling our product, they make $2 for selling consulting services," Piccariello said. Accenture Ltd., American Management Systems Inc., BearingPoint Inc. and Northrop Grumman Corp. all have used the company's solutions.

The software best lends itself to being customized for a wide number of vertical markets, which are best understood by integrators with specific domain knowledge.

"They can take our product and add their own vertical expertise to it. They can use it as a starting point and create a solution that can be very specialized," said Sanjay Poonen, vice president of worldwide marketing at Informatica. *

If you have an innovative solution that you recently installed in a government agency, contact Staff Writer Joab Jackson at jjackson@postnewsweektech.com.

About the Author

Joab Jackson is the senior technology editor for Government Computer News.

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