SOA Case Study: El Paso County, Colorado

As CIO for the fastest-growing county in Colorado, Bill Miller has been working hard to move the county’s IT infrastructure out of the dark ages and into the 21st Century.

For the last few years, Miller has been busy laying the groundwork for rolling out new, improved, automated and server-based IT services to county’s myriad departments and citizens through the implementation of business process management (BPM) software from Metastorm and service-orientated architecture (SOA).

His first stop on this journey began with the county’s 11 commissioners. He started by automating their agenda workflow system and is now in the process of tying that together, through web services, with all of the other available electronic content they need to run the county.

This includes, for now, the county’s Hummingbird document management system, its GIS (geographic information system) so the commissioners can pull up maps, and the county’s records system.

Next on the list is to bring the county’s permitting office up to speed, which may take a little more time. Unable to get funding for this project form the county, Miller appealed directly to developers who, for obvious reasons, are gladly footing the bill via fees.

“If you walked into a planner’s office you wouldn’t believe it,” said Miller. “You can hardly even move for the paper that’s in there. And trying to track everything and keep track of where it is and respond to the customers is a nightmare, and it’s been that way for years.”

In fact, because of budget constraints, Miller has become quite good at creative financing. All of the county’s departments have projects they want done—so many in fact, Miller had to put together a five year plan to show department heads when they will get what they’re after—that Miller convinced them to help fund his SOA initiative out of their own budgets.

“This is a progressive thing for us,” he said. “First of all, we started out basically with just a hodge-podge of applications that were custom written running on a DEC machine. And now we’ve evolved to a standards environment … and the next step is tying those together and providing those services electronically either to the public, or internally to departments and offices. So that’s out web services structure.”

Sounds simple enough but things are just beginning. Miller fully expects to be retired before his SOA “To Do” list is done.

The Devil’s Details

Like all new technologies the upside potential is what draws people in but, as the expression goes, the Devil is in the details.

For Miller those details include overseeing the digitization of years and years of county records; moving from custom-coded mainframe software to off-the-shelf, standards-based software so he can tie everything together with web services; obtaining funding from a technology-illiterate board of commissioners; GPS enabling county snow removal and road maintenance equipment; migrating data from the mainframe to SQL databases so it can be accessed via web services calls, and on, and on, and on.

“Eventually,” said Miller with a chuckle, ” … eventually, I’ll retire, but — eventually — it will all work together.”