Ohio faces tough IT task in merger of agencies and networks

Ohio faces tough IT task in merger of agencies and networks

By Merry Mayer

Special to GCN

Two Ohio agencies have merged, creating a big systems integration challenge.


Tom Wehrhahn, left, president of the Coalition of Organizations Linking Together, helps a displaced Ohio factory employee create a new resume using the state's online job services.


On July 1, the Human Services Department (ODHS) and the Bureau of Employment Services (OBES) combined. The goal was to eliminate duplicate job-finding efforts, since four-year-old federal welfare reform legislation handed ODHS'and all states' welfare agencies'the task of finding jobs for recipients.

ODHS brought to the new agency a Novell NetWare network on which applications are accessed not only by its employees but also by thousands of county-level welfare workers. In all, ODHS supports 20,000 PCs, printers and external access points. OBES had a 3,000-node network running a different version of NetWare. OBES used Microsoft Office software, while ODHS used products from Corel Corp.

Gov. Bob Taft had proposed merging the agencies in January of last year. Under welfare reform, ODHS found itself doing much the same work as OBES'even operating competing job-listing Web sites.

The new agency was dubbed the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. It will have an annual budget of $10.4 billion and 4,000 employees.

Although the former Human Services Department was one of 60 Ohio agencies, it accounted for 49 percent of the Ohio Data Network's usage.

According to Mark Birnbrich, deputy director of the Office of Management Information Services for the new agency, the welfare portion of its mission will require the integration of administrative support systems so that the combined work forces can communicate. Plus, their competing sites must be merged, he said (see story, next page).

'We can't do it overnight. The biggest thing will be putting in the new networks. This gives us the opportunity to step back and do it again from the beginning and choose the best of both breeds,' Birnbrich said.

Not in Kansas anymore

Until then, the new department has made a short-term fix so that it looks to users as though the networks are already merged.

'It's as they say in 'The Wizard of Oz': Ignore that man behind the curtain. It is a Band-Aid. We have shared address books. We downloaded all OBES address books into the ODHS system and vice versa,' Birnbrich said.

Moving the combined agency to single software versions will be another big job, because the two departments run 200 software applications between them.

'This won't happen all at once, but as systems are enhanced, we will take best of breed,' Birnbrich said.

Personnel from OBES will have to learn to use a different financial system, the one used by ODHS as well as most other Ohio departments.

The merger has also meant the new agency must integrate its database-driven systems.

'Right now we have a bunch of stovepipe systems,' Birnbrich said.

His goal is to feed more data into the existing Integrated Case Management System (ICMS) so workers can readily know, for example, when an individual is receiving food stamps and is also behind in child support payments'information now residing on separate databases.

'It is hard to correlate information on one individual found in several systems,' he said. He plans to build a gateway connecting the systems so they appear logically as one, as opposed to building a new, mass database.

ICMS resides on two 332-MHz IBM RS/6000 SP servers, each with 1G of RAM and 12G of disk storage. The servers run IBM AIX and a DB2 database management system.

Going to the Web

ICMS has a Web front end. Interfaces are written using Rational Rose 98i from Rational Software Corp. of Cupertino, Calif., for object modeling, and IBM's VisualAge for Java and WebSphere Studio for presentation and business logic. QMSoft Address Broker from Qualitative Marketing Software Inc. of Clearwater, Fla., is used to validate welfare recipients' addresses and enter them into a geographic information system.

The former Bureau of Employment Services will also have to move off its Unisys Corp. mainframes to the IBM platform that ODHS uses. A request for proposals was issued about nine months ago to change the Ohio Job Insurance system to IBM, Birnbrich said. He is hoping to have a vendor working on the three-year project in the next six months.

Although the two agencies had nearly identical information technology staffs, no employees will be laid off because sufficient vacancies existed to absorb every worker, Birnbrich said. Each agency had five IT bureaus:

•'Resources administration for help desk, training, contracts, personnel and budgeting

•'Network support

•'Information systems support for batch processing, disaster recovery and security

•'Systems development

•'Standards and configuration management.

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