COUNTY LINES

Harris County justice system gets new middleware

'Houston, we have a problem.' That's what users of the Harris County, Texas, Justice Information Management System said before the county traded in JIMS' sluggish screen-scraper technology for ConnectStar middleware from Computer Corporation of America of Framingham, Mass.

With a population of about 3 million, Harris is the third largest county in Texas, and it includes Houston. About 15,000 county judicial and law enforcement employees'attorneys, police and court reporters'have access to JIMS, which runs on an IBM ES/9000 mainframe.

JIMS houses more than 185 million records'civil and criminal case data as well as the county's juror database'in CCA's Model 204 database management system.

The county had been using an older release of screen-scraper software from ClientSoft Inc. of Hawthorne, N.Y., said Jimmy Ray, JIMS director.

'We didn't have any other way to get the Model 204 applications into a Web environment,' Ray said.

Ray and his team decided to invest in ConnectStar middleware, which reads data from the Model 204 files and translates it into a Microsoft Windows environment. Ray also bought CCA's WebGate software, which puts the Model 204 files into a Web environment. The new software reduced the response times from several minutes to a few seconds. Users can access the data from a Web browser.

The county didn't need to buy much new hardware to support the CCA middleware. For the Web portion of JIMS, Ray bought a Dell PowerEdge server and a few direct-access storage devices. The county had installed T1 lines earlier, Ray said.

JIMS began operating in 1976 as an IBM VSAM/Cobol system with old flat files, Ray said. Some applications are still written in Cobol, Ray said. The rest'juvenile justice, jury management, payroll and civil justice'have been recoded into Model 204 User Language.

Model 204 is a different animal than Cobol VSAM, Ray said. 'We had to redesign applications based on changing user needs. And we're not through yet,' Ray said. 'We'll be adding sex offender registration, geographic information systems and Internet programs.'
The new middleware may be a small step for Harris County, but it's a giant leap for JIMS.

'Trudy Walsh

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