Homegrown dashboard tracks Senate IT projects

Who's in charge

William Pickle

Sergeant at Arms and Doorkeeper


Greg Hanson

CIO


Ed Jankus

Director of Process Management and Innovation


Tracy Williams

Director of Technology Development Services


Kimball Winn

Director of IT Support Services

'This is a culture change. We had to assure [users] that this was not a watchdog system.'

'Senate CIO Greg Hanson

Henrik G. de Gyor

The first year Greg Hanson was CIO of the Senate, his weekend reading was not the latest thriller or a paper on a hot new technology.

Hanson, who holds a doctorate in computer science from University of Central Florida, enjoyed the chapter and verse of status reports on more than 50 ongoing Senate projects.

'When I got here, status reports were done on an ad hoc basis or on a project-by-project basis, but there was no way to look at all of them across the Senate,' he said. 'I said I needed some reporting and had the staff bring me all the internal reports in a briefing book.'

The briefing-book system brought some order to Senate IT projects, but Hanson's real goal was to improve how his office manages and engineers IT projects.

To that end, Hanson directed the development and deployment of a project- and issue-management application called the CIO Dashboard. The tool lets all 500 of his office's staff members'Senate employees and contractors around the country'view information about every ongoing project, from the size to the cost to the status, including any problems and the requesting office.

What it does

'The CIO Dashboard holds all the metadata about a project,' he said. 'It is part of how we are standardizing how we manage projects and the solution development life cycle.'

The dashboard does not hold project plans or any sensitive data such as requirements or contract terms and conditions, but it does let users view projects across the entire organization for the first time.

The CIO's office launched an initial version in January that included two of the three modules for project and issue tracking. Hanson said the third module, tracking system performance, would be finished early next year.

The dashboard currently holds information on about 75 projects, some for every member of the Senate and some for specific offices.

Hanson's software development team built the application in-house in about a year using Cold Fusion from Macromedia Inc. of San Francisco. The system stores information on a Microsoft SQL Server database, which resides on servers running Unix. To use the system, Senate CIO staff members just need an Internet connection.

'We looked at commercial software, but I didn't see any that did what I needed,' Hanson said. 'I estimate we avoided spending at least a million dollars,' by doing it in-house instead of buying and customizing a commercial product.

In fact, Hanson said a few vendors who have seen the app have offered to buy it.

Under Hanson's plan for project management, all programs must be approved by the Innovations Committee, made up of Hanson; the three directors of the IT Support Services, Technology Development Services and Process Management and Innovations offices; and other key individuals. The project manager inputs all program information into the dashboard, and the committee, which meets on average every two weeks, prioritizes it among other requests.

'This is a culture change,' Hanson said. 'Everyone had to get used to working across the same models. We had to assure them that this was not a watchdog system.'

Before building the application, Hanson's team had to define the features of the software. It also developed a tracking system within the project management module that lets users know when a project deadline is approaching by changing the color of the background to yellow, and when it is due or overdue by changing it to red.

The system also is integrated with the Senate's Microsoft Exchange e-mail system; the project manager's messages are automatically sent to everyone involved in the project.

The second module, the issue tracker, also feeds information to the first module.

Hanson said if there is an issue from a Senator's office (other than help desk problems), the information automatically appears on both systems.

The issue tracker uses the scorecard methodology to follow the progress of requests, Hanson added.

'The CIO Dashboard is a wonderful communication device that puts projects and issues on my and other members of the staff's radar screens,' Hanson said. 'We want to get better at projects, and the dashboard will help us focus on those areas that we need more training on.'

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