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Chapter 6.8

Review Information Systems


Summary

The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) has large internally-developed computer systems, some of which are no longer supported by vendors. Advances in technology have increased expectations for information systems. Other states have taken steps to move to systems that provide better information by developing agency-wide plans to move to more current technology known as enterprise plans. TxDOT should sponsor an independent review of their system to develop a plan to replace legacy systems.



Background

In the US, state departments of transportation (DOTs) have been engineering organizations. DOTs’ information technology (IT) resources focus on providing good engineering information, while major innovations have spotlighted technological improvements in how roads are built and constructed. IT in DOTs usually refers to Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)—information collection and management tools that improve the capacity and safety or reduce the cost of transportation.[1]

At the beginning of a new century, however, it’s clear that DOTs must operate in a climate of change. Internal and external, technological, political, and institutional changes are now major management concerns of the state transportation agencies that make up the membership of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO).[2]

An AASHTO-sponsored report in April 2000 addressed the implications of transportation changes on state DOTs, recognizing that dramatic recent changes in IT create both opportunities and barriers for transportation agencies. Many of the potential benefits lie in taking advantage of technology for streamlining, planning, construction, operation and maintenance of public infrastructure. Simultaneously, there is the challenge of how to effectively master and use this information technology to achieve potential benefits.[3]

The impact of IT is not only a matter of internal business process efficiencies, information technologies need to facilitate communication among various organizations and interested parties, creating new ways of working together to produce plans, programs and projects. As state DOTs enhance the capabilities of information and communication systems, the need to incorporate these highly-skilled capabilities within their organizations increases.[4]

One of the great potential revolutions lies in moving the state DOT from an organization of construction and repair to also being purveyors of information to a wide variety of stakeholders. While an ITS-style focus on information needs may improve drive times on congested roadways, the taxpayers and local decision makers also want better insight on how spending decisions are made and the timeliness of project completion. Access through the Internet and electronic mail, for example, is bringing that distant consumer into much clearer focus.[5]


IT Approaches in Other States

In the mid-1990s, the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) and the Office of the State Controller recognized the need to replace and enhance NCDOT IT systems.[6] Driving this decision were issues of NCDOT non-compliance with the state’s accounting system and concerns about the ability to change, maintain and support a system that was developed in-house over the course of 25 years.[7] There were also concerns that the existing systems were unable to support ad hoc queries and user-oriented reporting, features that allow operating divisions and management to fulfill their own information requests without assistance from IT staff.[8]

In 1996, a joint study by NCDOT and the Office of the State Controller recommended “acquiring a separate suite of application software to address business requirements,” with the ability to interface with the state accounting system.[9] A further recommendation was to expand the project to review and improve NCDOT business processes. The resulting review identified 83 projects with additional research to be done on more than 50. In May 2000, the NCDOT awarded a contract to SAP America for the purchase and installation of their Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, with the installation currently underway. The actual changeover date for the new system is June 2002, approximately seven years after initial identification of the problem.

On February 18, 2000, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania announced the selection of the SAP ERP software suite to replace its statewide administrative system.[10] Characterized as a strategic decision, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania decided to purchase integrated, off-the-shelf software to address the immediate need to upgrade statewide purchasing, budget, personnel and accounting, with the intent of implementing it module-by-module.


TxDOT Enterprise Model

The TxDOT Information Systems (IS) Division produces three primary documents that provide guidance for TxDOT information systems operations: a biennial operating plan, “Core Technology Architecture,” and the agency’s “Strategic Plan for Information Resources.”

The biennial operating plan identifies information system budget figures by category and type.

“Core Technology Architecture” identifies the status, recommended strategies and methodology in making recommendations in the following areas: network architecture, operating systems, database systems, hardware architecture, remote access, groupware, enterprise system management and reliability/fault tolerance. The purpose of this document is to “provide(s) guidelines that promote and facilitate the integration of systems and development of an infrastructure that is consistent, manageable, scalable and easily integrated.”[11]

The current version of the TxDOT strategic plan was issued on June 2, 2000, and is incorporated in the agency strategic plan.[12] The plan has one goal, four objectives, 55 strategies and 208 action items committing the agency to some action or follow-up. Among the critical success factors for the agency listed in the strategic plan is the need to “take advantage of anticipated technological advances” in “all activities of the organization.” The plan further identifies a critical need to “create a computing environment that promotes cross-platform migration, uniform development and a comprehensive technology structure,” listing a number of current activities and implementations in support of this statement.[13]


TxDOT Database Issues

The TxDOT IS strategic plan identifies 22 applications as “mission critical” and six as “agency critical.”[14] TxDOT defines “mission critical” and “agency critical” as follows:

  • Mission Critical Failure of these applications would have an adverse impact on public health, public safety or the collection of revenues.[15]
  • Agency Critical Failure of these applications would have an adverse impact on TxDOT.[16]

Exhibit 1 (below) summarizes this data in descending order of database use:

Exhibit 1: Database use by “Critical” Application

File Type[17]
Total
Mission Critical
Agency Critical
ADABAS
33%
23%
10%
VSAM
31%
23%
8%
Sequential
14%
10%
4%
ADABAS (read only)
8%
8%

VSAM (read only)
8%
6%
2%
Clipper DBF
2%
2%

DB2/2
2%
2%

Sybase
2%
2%


100%
76%
24%

Exhibit 2 (below) focuses on the two databases with highest use (ADABAS and VSAM,) indicating the level of critical application reliance on these systems:

Exhibit 2: Critical Application Use of Selected Database Systems

File Type
Total
Mission Critical
Agency Critical
Use either ADABAS or VSAM (exclude “read only” access)
79%
61%
18%
Use either ADABAS or VSAM (all)
86%
68%
18%
All applications
100%
79%
21%

The agency’s technology architecture does not recommend future development of systems using VSAM files “unless strong business reasons can be presented to support the development.”[18],[19] The architecture plan also indicates that ADABAS C “would not be recommended” for new major development projects, with new enterprise-level project development focusing on either the DB2/2 or Oracle databases, as appropriate.

With 24 of 28 critical applications using either ADABAS or VSAM, TxDOT appears to have a significant data migration/data application problem. TxDOT acknowledges the desirability of standardizing on a single strategic database but warns of project hazards due to “changing requirements, application interfaces and complexities, proprietary application software requirements, the marketplace, and the overall cost and risk to the department.”[20] Within the enterprise framework model, TxDOT appears to have adopted a migration strategy of retiring systems gradually and removing older file systems from future development. The ability of this approach to meet future customer demands while maintaining the existing systems remains unknown.


Recommendation

TxDOT should sponsor an information systems review conducted by independent specialists with extensive knowledge of evolving legacy systems.[21]

Little doubt exists of the short-term cost effectiveness of a comprehensive IT migration strategy for handling data stored in older types of file systems. However, the long lead-time inherent in major system/database changes (as in the NCDOT example) suggests the need for a more comprehensive review of information systems at TxDOT. The cumulative technological impact of other recommendations in this review effort further supports this strategy.

Review topics should include the following:

  1. Identify and solicit information from major customer and end user groups, both internal and external, to ascertain current and future information system product and service needs.
  2. Evaluate the extent to which TxDOT IT enterprise plans meet these needs.
  3. Consider the ability of TxDOT IS to accomplish the one goal, four objectives, 55 strategies and 208 action items found in the agency’s strategic plan.
  4. Evaluate the relative potential and costs of the current database strategy to meet anticipated user demands compared to alternative strategies.
  5. Determine the relative advisability/desirability of an agency-wide ERP implementations (such as North Carolina DOT) as an alternative to continuing to maintain/evolve the current systems.


Fiscal Impact

The fiscal impact of this recommendation cannot be estimated. Information for a reasonable cost estimate should come from TxDOT’s development of the proposed IT study.


Endnotes

[1] National Cooperative Highway Research Program, Analyses of the Future of Transportation Environment and the Implications for State DOTs (Washington, DC, April 28, 2000), pp. 5-1, 5-4.

[2] American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, The Changing State DOT, (Washington, DC, 1998) p. iii.

[3] National Cooperative Highway Research Program, Analyses of the Future of Transportation Environment and the Implications for State DOTs, (Washington, DC, April 28, 2000), p. 1-3.

[4] National Cooperative Highway Research Program, Analyses of the Future of Transportation Environment and the Implications for State DOTs, (Washington, DC, April 28, 2000), p. 1-5.

[5] American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, The Changing State DOT, (Washington, DC, 1998) pp. 21-30.

[6] North Carolina Department of Transportation, “Business Systems Improvement Project," BSIP Newsletter, Volume 2, Issue 1, May 1998. (Newsletter.) (http://www.dot.state.nc.us/financial/fiscal/bsip/bsipnews/bsipv2i1.html). (Internet document.)

[7] North Carolina Department of Transportation, “DOT Fiscal System Assessment,” Section IV, (http://www.dot.state.nc.us/financial/fiscal/bsip/it/itstrategy/sysassess.html). (Internet document.)

[8] North Carolina Department of Transportation, “NCDOT, DOT Fiscal System Assessment,” Section IV, (http://www.dot.state.nc.us/financial/fiscal/bsip/it/itstrategy/sysassess.html). (Internet document.)

[9] “State of North Carolina DOT Fiscal System Project Conceptual Approach,” joint project of the North Carolina DOT and the Office of the State Controller, October 1996, cited in “NCDOT, DOT Fiscal System Assessment,” Section IV, (http://www.dot.state.nc.us/financial/fiscal/bsip/it/itstrategy/sysassess.html). (Internet document.)

[10] Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, "Imagine PA Achieving World-Class Government," (http://www.state.pa.us/erp/announce.html). (Internet document.)

[11] Texas Department of Transportation, Core Technology Architecture, Version 2.2 (Austin, Texas, October 1999), p. 1.

[12] Texas Department of Transportation, Moving Texas into the 21st Century-Strategic Plan FY 2001-2005 (Austin, Texas, June 1, 2000), Appendix G, pp. 258-341.

[13] Texas Department of Transportation, Moving Texas into the 21st Century-Strategic Plan FY 2001-2005 (Austin, Texas, June 1, 2000), p. 41.

[14] Texas Department of Transportation, Moving Texas into the 21st Century-Strategic Plan FY 2001-2005 (Austin, Texas, June 1, 2000), Appendix G, pp. 331-339.

[15] Texas Department of Transportation, Moving Texas into the 21st Century-Strategic Plan FY 2001-2005 (Austin, Texas, June 1, 2000), Appendix G, p. 331.

[16] Texas Department of Transportation, Moving Texas into the 21st Century-Strategic Plan FY 2001-2005 (Austin, Texas, June 1, 2000), Appendix G, p. 337.

[17] ADABAS, VSAM, and DB2 are Texas Department of Transportation's mainframe database systems, with DB2 identified as the primary database for future Texas Department of Transportation mainframe development. Sequential, Clipper DBF and Sybase are databases designed to operate in client/server environments, with Sybase (and Oracle) identified as the primary databases for future development. Source: Texas Department of Transportation, Core Technology Architecture, Version 3.0 (Austin, Texas, October 1999), pp. 20-30.

[18] Texas Department of Transportation, Core Technology Architecture, Version 2.2, (Austin, Texas, October 1999), p. 28.

[19] Texas Department of Transportation, Core Technology Architecture, Version 2.2, (Austin, Texas, October 1999), p. 23.

[20] Texas Department of Transportation, Core Technology Architecture, Version 2.2, (Austin, Texas, October 1999), p. 22.

[21] An example on an appropriate firm is the Software Engineering Institute (SEI), a federally-funded research and development center established in 1984 by the U.S. Department of Defense with a broad charter to address the transition of software engineering technology. The SEI is an integral component of Carnegie Mellon University (http://www.sei.cmu.edu/). (Internet document.)