Pa. builds 'powerhouse' for data
- By Trudy Walsh
- Sep 10, 2002
'We all think our babies are pretty, but you need to get an independent assessment. Gartner thinks we have some cute kids.'
One of Pennsylvania's nicknames is the Keystone State. A keystone is the wedge-shaped piece at the crown of an arch that locks the other pieces in place.
Pennsylvania's Office for Information Technology has been a keystone for many of the state's most innovative projects. State CIO Charlie Gerhards said the state made vast improvements to its information systems during Gov. Tom Ridge's administration.
When Ridge took office in 1995, state agencies had about 5,000 PCs and about seven or eight different e-mail systems, Gerhards said.
'Communicating from Point A to Point B was possible but not reliable. People sometimes celebrated when their e-mail got through, it was such an event,' he said.
Now, through a program called Commonwealth Connect, the state has migrated to Microsoft Corp. software for all state agencies. Seventy percent of state workers, or about 54,000 employees, have a desktop PC or notebook computer, Gerhards said. All are connected to one e-mail system.
By applying software standards, the state saved several million dollars in software costs alone, not to mention the savings in productivity, Gerhards said.The mail never stops
Of everything the OIT has accomplished in the past seven years, the unified e-mail system has 'helped glue the enterprise together the best,' Gerhards said. 'We're not playing phone tag anymore.'
About 10,000 employees dial in from home in the evening to access e-mail. 'We're sending about half a million e-mails a day,' Gerhards said.
One of Pennsylvania's IT projects is being considered as a model for a possible national homeland security IT system, Gerhards said. The Justice Network, or JNet, connects all of the state's criminal justice databases, including the state police, Corrections Department, Pennsylvania Transportation Department, Probation and Parole Board, and Administrative Offices of Pennsylvania Courts. Federal JNet users include employees at the FBI, U.S. Marshals Service, Drug Enforcement Administration, Secret Service and Postal Inspection Service.
Police can pull up driver's license photos of suspects from the Transportation Department's information system. 'That's been great. Police can get a visual on a suspect immediately,' Gerhards said. JNet will then send law enforcement officials an alert by e-mail or pager saying that a suspect has been identified.
'The really thrilling part is that local governments and local police have embraced this system,' Gerhards said. 'We literally have a laundry list of success stories'bank robbers and murder mysteries solved.'
Federal officials used JNet to identify suspects linked to the attacks on the World Trade Center.
Another one of Pennsylvania's major IT initiatives is the Data Powerhouse, a project to consolidate and outsource the state's 21 data centers. IBM Corp. and Unisys Corp. are the outsourcing partners.No. 1 kids
Gartner Inc. of Stamford, Conn., recently benchmarked the performance of the consolidated data center. 'Relative to hundreds of other private and public data centers, we finished first in the Gartner database,' Gerhards said.
'We all think our babies are pretty, but to make sure the baby is really pretty, you need to get an independent assessment. Gartner thinks we have some cute kids.'
He credits two factors for Pennsylvania's success with its IT projects: support from the governors, first Ridge and now Gov. Mark Schweiker; and the dedication of state IT employees.
'We were never uncertain about Gov. Ridge's intentions, about his leadership and support. He never gave us mixed messages,' Gerhards said. 'You win battles with your army, not just your generals. We make it a practice to send a lot of e-mails saying, 'Thank you, great job.' If you can get people to feel a sense of synergy and ownership, they will not quit. They can do incredible things.'
Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.