HUD designs its system for equal and easy access

HUD designs its system for equal and easy access

HUD CIO Gloria Parker says that tapping too many sources for information creates inconsistencies in the data collected.

One-stop shop will use three-pronged strategy to deliver data to federal workers and the public

By Caron Golden

Special to GCN

If there is a common goal in agencies' efforts toward online government, it is to provide easy access and ready information to both government employees and the public.

So after Housing and Urban Development Secretary Andrew Cuomo announced the One HUD mission nearly three years ago, the department's tech managers determined that a good way to reach constituents was to build a system in which anyone'a community planner, a congressional representative, a HUD executive or a private citizen'could get local program information on the spot.

The big picture, said Richard Burk, HUD's associate deputy assistant secretary for operations, is to link up other government agencies and create a one-stop shop for comprehensive data.

'Someone interested in how close low-income populations in a particular city are living to a dump site could get that information in one place without having to first find the population information at the Census Bureau, housing information at HUD and pollution sites at the Environmental Protection Agency,' Burk said.

The first step was to break down the information barriers within HUD itself, he said.

The project has been a three-pronged initiative that will soon meld an enterprise data warehouse, an executive information system and a geographic information system.

In March, HUD awarded MicroStrategy Inc. of Vienna, Va., which had already been working for a year with HUD on EIS, a $5.8 million contract to combine the enterprise data warehouse and EIS.

So far, said Robert Silverman, vice president of the company's government solutions group, the agency has bought software licenses for 10,000 users, primarily for the first rollout, which will be for internal use.

MicroStrategy has brought in as subcontractors Oracle Corp. and Unisys Corp. HUD will use an Oracle8i relational database for the enterprise data warehouse and a Sun Microsystems Enterprise 10000 Highend Server. The system is connected via a T1 line. If HUD gives the go-ahead to a second phase, MicroStrategy will develop a customizable Web and wireless portal, to be called My HUD, for another $7.5 million.

'The reason we selected MicroStrategy is that they have a great ability to broadcast data to a variety of places, like the Web, e-mail and the telephone, and they allow the end user to customize it,' Burk said.

HUD's one-stop online project will combine an enterprise data warehouse with an executive information system. HUD will soon add a geographic information system.

The third component of the system, the GIS, is now also under way. At the end of last month, Environmental Systems Research Institute of Redlands, Calif., was awarded the $3 million GIS contract with the understanding, Burk said, that it would work with MicroStrategy to integrate the systems.

There will be two parts to the GIS, Burk said. The first will establish a platform integrated with the EIS and the data warehouse.

The second will add to HUD's Community 2020 mapping software and create a Web package.

'With geocoding, you can really link up data from different agencies and HUD does not become the library in the sky,' he said. 'Each entity will hold its own information, but we'll be the portal. We're trying to create one-stop shopping in a context that's meaningful to folks: geography.'

Gloria Parker, HUD's chief information officer, said the status quo was creating too much work and too many inconsistencies when it came to pulling and analyzing information.

'We had a lot of requests for information that originated from a lot of separate sources,' she said. 'That created problems because it was often inconsistent. And, because you had to go to too many sources to get information, it was nonproductive.'

The first project, initiated about three years ago, was the GIS. Burk said it let local governments more swiftly sift through what HUD had been doing in their area. 'But we started to rethink it, based on different constituent needs,' he said. 'We still had to pull information from 28 databases. At that point, though, we recognized that the technology was available to reconcile these and bring it into one area. So we began developing the data warehouse. It's common in the private sector, but not at the federal level.

'We're the right size to do it; we have about 10,000 people. And we're not too diverse in terms of different entities. There's a consistency across our data in that we're aiming at the same populations and constituencies,' Burk said.

The EIS was prompted by the creation of HUD's Community Builder program, in which a group of HUD employees serve as the public's liaison to the agency. 'They needed program information at their fingertips and it needed to be relevant to a specific city,' Parker said.

Summer debut

Burk said he expects to roll out the first version of the combined EIS and enterprise data warehouse by Aug. 31. It will at first be for internal use, before the department rolls it out to business partners such as public housing authorities and congressional staff.

Because the GIS contract was awarded later, Burk said, it's not likely to come out simultaneously with the EIS, but he expects it by the end of the year.

Although Parker and Burk initially had to overcome resistance from users wary of giving up control of their data, they expect to gain enhanced productivity and data integrity.

'When we're asked questions by the White House or Congress, or a constituent needs a question answered at one of our kiosks,' Parker said, 'there will be one version of the truth.'

Caron Golden is a free-lance writer based in San Diego.

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