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Colorado Department of Corrections deploys WebFOCUS for inmate tracking, financial reporting

Written by PSIT Staff

It is essential for public safety. With the 23 state prisons logging an average of 70,000 incidents per year, accurate incident tracking is critical for the protection of department workers and inmates. The Department of Corrections needs software tools that give department personnel an overview of prison operations while also enabling them to drill down to individual inmate activities.

These ongoing concerns motivated the department to acquire a complete business intelligence (BI) solution. After studying available options, the department deployed WebFOCUS to lock down its reporting activities with an affordable yet comprehensive BI environment.

“We track a tremendous amount of people and dollars through our WebFOCUS reporting system,” said Paul Engstrom, the Incident Reporting System coordinator for the Prison Operations Unit at the Colorado Department of Corrections. “WebFOCUS not only handles our financial reporting, it also enables us to accurately track inmate behavior, such as fights and gang activity, as well as report on inmate health issues and facility trends.”

WebFOCUS represented a decisive upgrade for the Colorado Department of Corrections. For many years, the CDOC has depended on a COBOL system called Colorado Financial Reporting System (COFRS) and a 4GL inmate-tracking and case-management system called DCIS. Both of these systems could create reports, but it was a process that could take up to a week for a single report.

“Our legacy systems did a great job of capturing data, but an inadequate job of reporting,” Engstrom said. “Managers and directors were accustomed to waiting a week for reports and specifically in regards to the financial information that was weeks and even months old.”

Accessory Before the Fact
Engstrom started using WebFOCUS soon after he joined the department. “I recognized that we had a powerful tool at our disposal, so I started writing a few reports on my own,” he said. “Before long, I was turning around report requests in a matter of minutes. Once the staff became accustomed to that level of response, they wanted more.”

Engstrom recommended moving the entire department to a self-service reporting model, freeing IT personnel from the demands of creating and delivering reports using the legacy procedures. A decision was then made to evaluate several reporting environments from the leading business intelligence vendors.

“We were already using other business intelligence software in the department, but it was cumbersome and hard to learn,” Engstrom said. “It was also tremendously expensive. Several of the solutions would have required each user to own a license, merely to run reports, at $400 to $800 per user, and we wanted to roll out a self-service reporting environment to 6,000 people.”

Another leading BI vendor pitched its technology to the decision makers at the department. In addition to exorbitant licensing fees, the company wanted $800,000 to build a custom reporting system. “Based on my experience, I was confident WebFOCUS could accomplish everything these vendors demonstrated, for a lot less money,” Engstrom said. “Because Information Builders does not require licenses for self-service users, I believed we could roll out a reporting system to our entire user base for a fraction of the cost of these other solutions.”

The Department of Corrections’ senior management dedicated the necessary resources and selected WebFOCUS for the job. Officials fast-tracked the implementation process by hiring Information Builders Professional Services to help them create and deploy a self-service reporting system. “We had the consultants in-house for four weeks,” Engstrom said. “They delivered a system that exceeded our expectations, within budget. Maintenance costs were well within the limits of the correctional system’s capabilities and much less costly than the other vendor proposals.”

New Management Tools in Custody
In short order, Information Builders Professional Services created a self-service incident tracking system that completely eliminated paper-based manual reporting processes. “The consultants were very helpful and efficient and were aided by the valuable, hard-working staff of the department,” Engstrom said. Senior management further invested in the success of the project by sending key staff to Information Builders Customer Education classes to help direct the activities of the group and streamline the implementation.

“We plan to use Information Builders Professional Services and Customer Education for future projects,” Engstrom said. “They understand our needs and are really focused on helping us become more productive.” With the self-service reporting system in production mode, the department now has highly flexible querying and reporting capabilities.

Previously, when an incident occurred in a facility, correctional officers had to hand write reports that were reviewed and eventually stored away in a filing cabinet. Thanks to the far-sightedness of several senior executives, including the director of Prison Operations and the director of Administration and Finance, the go-ahead was given to develop the Incident Reporting System. Included in this system are: Incident Tracking System; Reportable Incident System—a management reporting tool; and the soon-to-be finalized COPD-Disciplinary System. All three of these applications were developed in-house by the CDOC. Because WebFOCUS was part of the overall design as the “engine” for queries and reporting, the application design team was able to focus and streamline its efforts within the Incident Reporting System on the data gathering and formatting processes.

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Using PowerBuilder, an application development tool from Sybase, in-house BT Programmer Paul Wright and a design team from several facilities developed the first application, Incident Tracking System (ITS), in just over 13 months. ITS was rolled out to all CDOC facilities and has been in full production for more than two and a half years. In that time, more than 170,000 incidents have been generated. Using ITS, officers can now document incidents directly into an electronic format, routing incidents online with electronic signatures, capturing this information for future access. This allows for a wide range of user-directed reporting activities. For example, Wardens can review incidents at their facilities in the past 24 hours or over a specified date range, while the Prison Operations group can obtain an overview of everything that has occurred across all the facilities in the state. They can also drill down to obtain details about a specific incident or inmate. The second part of the Incident Reporting System was finalized and rolled out on Jan. 1, 2008, providing another level of statistical reporting to the CDOC. The third and final application, COPD, is due to roll out during the fourth quarter of 2008.

“The new system provides powerful management tools,” Engstrom said. “For example, corrections professionals in charge of managing the facilities can review a certain type of incident at a specific facility or study trends of inmate activities, such as a tendency to congregate just out of sight of a surveillance camera. Managers can also use WebFOCUS reports to analyze whole correctional systems. Analyzing these types of incidents helps correctional professionals determine the training needs for staff, update policies to deal with institutional problems, review gang issues, and analyze a variety of other issues. Being able to analyze data in this way improves safety for both the staff and the inmates while achieving the mission of the department.”

The new reporting capabilities not only enhance public safety but also aid departmental planning, streamline budget formulation, and simplify regulatory compliance. For example, WebFOCUS helps the department meet the requirements of the American Correctional Association (ACA), which serves as the accreditation bureau for the Colorado Department of Corrections. “We are required to report certain events,” Engstrom said.

“WebFOCUS helps us categorize and submit the reports we need to comply with these mandates.” WebFOCUS also delivers financial reports, accessing data from the state of Colorado’s COFRS system via the state comptroller’s office. Business managers can run both ad hoc and canned reports. For example, a business manager can quickly determine how much a certain facility spent on each component of its operation or compare actual expenses against budgets over any time period. These reports not only help control current costs but also simplify the process of formulating budgets for future operations, as required by the Colorado General Assembly.

Aiding and Abetting the Flow of Information
As the WebFOCUS deployment picks up speed, the department is placing one or two power users at each facility who have been trained to manage and create reports using WebFOCUS Developer Studio. “Already, our summary and incident tracking reports can be accessed by authorized users throughout the entire department,” Engstrom said. “Beyond that, we are rolling out the self-service reporting environment at a new facility every few months. While the power users require some training to create new types of reports with Developer Studio, we can train self-service users in about 30 minutes over the phone. We don’t foresee any performance issues as we scale the system to accommodate lots of reports and thousands of users,” Engstrom said.

As new users are brought online, they are assigned appropriate levels of access according to the department’s existing LDAP security architecture, ensuring that sensitive material such as medical reports can only be accessed by appropriate personnel, in accordance with federal health and privacy guidelines.

WebFOCUS runs on an HP server running Microsoft Windows. Users access reports from the WebFOCUS Report Server via standard Web browsers on any computer. The COFRS financial system stores data in a VSAM database, which is downloaded into a Microsoft SQL Server data mart that has been structured for reporting. The DCIS system stores reporting data in Informix tables. “WebFOCUS can work with all of these data types, and dozens of others as well,” Engstrom said. “This gives us a great deal of flexibility to expand its use throughout the Department of Corrections and perhaps to other Colorado state agencies as well.”

Ultimately, the department’s goal is to deploy integration technology from Information Builders iWay Software suite to enable various types of event-monitoring activities. For example, the department could use iWay to “listen” for specific incident types. When designated events occur, iWay could broadcast a notification to the people who need to know, such as duty officers, emergency response teams, or medical professionals. “I’d like to automate these critical activities, so trends will be reported to specific users without having to sign-in and run a specific report.” Engstrom said.

Yet even without these advanced capabilities, the self-service reporting system is quickly proving its worth. “The value of the system is easy to see,” Engstrom said. “For example, an administrative assistant who previously spent 40 hours per week compiling a summary report can now create that same report in about 30 minutes. Those time savings apply at each of our 23 facilities, so automating that one type of report alone represents a huge quantitative improvement. Like many of our personnel, these users now have the tools to run a report at will instead of waiting for someone else to do the job for them.”

Organization: The Colorado Department of Corrections is responsible for 22,000 prison inmates at 22 state facilities and six private facilities across Colorado.

The Challenge: Streamline manual reporting processes, cost-effectively enable end users to run their own reports, provide timely information about inmate activities and facility trends, and assist financial personnel with budgeting and project management.

The Strategy: A self-service application that reports against data stored in various information systems and delivers accurate information.

The Results: Users no longer need to wait for IT professionals to create reports, and retrieval time for information on inmate activities has been reduced from one week to 10 minutes.

Published in Public Safety IT, Mar/Apr 2008

Rating : 9.0


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