SOA Case Study: El Paso County, Colorado

So far, technology has not been the difficult part of this transformation. What vendors have been telling him about their products has, for the most part, been accurate. His biggest stumbling blocks, like in the corporate world, is vision and funding.

“Well, obviously the general management (elected officials, user groups) organization do not understand any of these technology concepts,” he said. “When you start (talking) standards and infrastructure and SOA … they glass over. So, the point is, we have to drive that piece of it. That requires money and, yes, funding is very difficult and convincing people you need the funding is very difficult.

“I came out of the corporate world. I’ve only bee in the public sector for six years so, yes, it’s absolutely the same thing. But at least you have a chain of command and focal point in the corporate world, here you have eleven elected officials and their all CEOs.”

Yet, everyone in the county knew something had to be done. Too many processes were too difficult and too time consuming to last in the digital age so it fell to Miller and his under-funded and overworked IT department to make something happen.

Enabling Standards

What has enabled Miller to succeed comes down to one word: standards. Without things like SOAP, BEPL, WSDL, HTTP, .NET, Java, WS Security, etc. Miller would have had little chance of tying the county’s disparate systems together into a cohesive whole that could serve all its constituents using just one, over-arching architecture; in this case, SOA.

On the vendor side, Miller has also standardized his infrastructure to get away from the ad-hoc systems of days past. He uses 130 HP servers running Microsoft on a Cisco network accessing SQL databases. While this does pose some risk, he said, the rewards are a much easier infrastructure to maintain and manage.

One of the downsides (unless you’re a techie, of course) is a tripling in the amount of databases and storage the county needs to manage its transformation from paper to bits and bites.

On the plus side, Miller and his crew get to keep their jobs while helping the county’s citizens, officials and employees access more services, in new ways, faster. The only downside of this is, once everyone becomes dependent on the new systems, if they go down, no one will be able to do much.

“It ties things together so they don’t have to go into five different systems to do their work,” said Miller. “IT’s always at risk after they’re highly dependent on it. They send people home (if it crashes) and that’s a bad thing.”

For Miller, the rewards are more personal. Not only is he doing a good job by meeting the needs of the people that depend on him and his crew for services, this BPM/SOA initiative is allowing him to become the CIO he’s always wanted to be—kind of the softer side of technology.

“I don’t think it makes (managing IT) easier,” he said. “I think what happens is I can evolve to higher levels. In other words, I don’t have to focus on day-to-day crises. I can focus more out into the future. And I can focus on things I get excited about and are unique and provide even better capabilities down the road.”

Which, at the end of the day, it what IT is all about.