Winners of the Best of California 2017 Awards worked hard at everything from helping grow business to improving how state, county and local agencies serve the neediest populations, as well as stimulating interest in the Affordable Care Act and predicting criminal behavior.
But officials behind several of the 18 winning solutions recognized on Tuesday, Sept. 12, at the 2017 California Technology Forum in Sacramento told Government Technology their projects all shared a common trait: each provided return on investment to both citizens and their governments.
Los Angeles County, the nation’s largest, is home to more than 10 million people according to 2015 U.S. Census Bureau data — and one of four agencies recognized in this area.
Until Oct. 24, 2016, however, its back-end system that provided automated case management to county public assistance programs was COBOL-based and had been originally conceptualized 20-some years ago.
Considered state-of-the-art in the 1990s, by the early 2010s the Los Angeles Eligibility, Automated Determination, Evaluation and Reporting (LEADER) system’s dated user interface and lack of flexibility were becoming painfully evident.
So were the siloed aspects of the county’s many legacy systems. Established to provide CalFresh and CalWORKS benefits, and case management and eligibility, LEADER was siloed from the Gain Employment Activity and Reporting System (GEARS), another system that tracked welfare-to-work assistance.
Both systems were also isolated from the General Relief Opportunity for Work (GROW) system, which helps CalWORKS recipients find, maintain and change employment.
In all, the county had 17 legacy systems it would need to modernize and integrate.
Michael Sylvester, assistant director of the Bureau of Contract and Technical Services for the county’s Department of Public Social Services (DPSS), and DPSS’ agency CIO, told Government Technology that changes in regulation and political structures can force the agency to move quickly into “different spaces.”
“And we need a system that is flexible, that does not have a proprietary type of architecture or user interface that requires extensive retraining of staff if you add and make changes to it,” Sylvester said, adding that the agency also needed something that would require less training.
Working with main contractor Accenture, software provider Oracle and hosting data center provider Northrop Grumman Corp., DPSS and county agencies including the Bureau of Contract and Technical Services, officials were able — in about four years — to successfully launch the LEADER Replacement System (LRS).
LRS replaces an antiquated back-end with what’s believed to be the biggest leading-edge system of its kind in the nation, featuring service-oriented architecture and, most importantly, a scalable, renewable enterprise platform.
Designed and developed in collaboration with the Statewide Automated Welfare System (SAWS) Consortium IV (C-IV), one of three groups representing 39 California counties, officials plan to eventually consolidate the C-IV system and the LRS into a single system serving 40 of the state’s 58 counties.
They’ll move from there, Sylvester said, to bring the California Work Opportunity and Responsibility to Kids Information Network (CalWIN) onboard, joining 50 counties, and eventually will link all 58. This, however, won’t happen for a few years, he said.
Sylvester emphasized the accomplishment of not just standing up LRS on time and on budget, at $376 million — and achieving a cost savings of nearly $18.5 million in its first fiscal year of operation — but of adapting its launch strategy to go enterprisewide, embracing offices that had to go live simultaneously to maintain legacy links.
“It actually required us to pivot and adjust our training, adjust our support resources, adjust our equipment distribution. Everything had to be adjusted accordingly and since we had buy-in from the top down and from every one of our service arms, we were able to make that pivot,” Sylvester said.
The result, he added, is a system unlikely to become outdated like its predecessor, but capable of flexing to the growing likelihood of remote and regional workspaces.
“And I think that’s a huge step forward from where we were," Sylvester said, "kind of frozen in time with this system we implemented."
Stockton police Capt. Antonio Sajor was one of three public employees from agencies around the state recognized in this category.
Sajor, who was elevated from lieutenant to captain in 2014, had one previous technology-related assignment before taking on the weighty responsibility of migrating his police department's computer-aided dispatch (CAD) and records management systems (RMS) from a platform at the end of its end-of-life.
But the officer had long had a way with technology, filming promotional videos for the department on his own that were so well-received they earned public release.
The task of extricating CAD and RMS applications for Stockton, a Central Valley city of more than 300,000 residents served by more than 400 sworn police officers, wasn’t easy.
Stockton Police Department (SPD) wasn’t leaving its provider, Tiburon. But the company had given the police department about two years notice that it would no longer provide maintenance and upgrades to SPD’s Unix-based platform.
Many platform replacements are tricky. But Sajor, praised in the department’s award application as “never failing to remain calm, have words of wisdom, take time to recognize and address issues and employees, and inspire completion of tasks,” told Government Technology that public safety’s life-saving mission made its renewal especially problematic.
“When things don’t work normally, everybody sees it. But when they do work normally, everybody just goes about their day. We’re in the shadows," said Sajor, who leads SPD’s technical services division and is also its liaison to city information technology.
“Getting to law enforcement and wanting to be a police officer, I’m not sure if there’s ever a whole lot of people who say, ‘I want to get into building CAD systems,’ or, ‘I want to work on a 911 line,’" he said. "But once you work on it you never forget how important it is just for other people to do their jobs."
SPD had to know that its data would migrate over seamlessly, Sajor said, “because we do a lot of work in violent crime forecasting and just analytics-led type of policing.” It couldn’t afford to lose case files, evidence or access to any sensitive information.
With that in mind, police officials began meeting with every section of their department in early 2015, to learn what worked with the old system and what didn’t. Retirings and lateral moves had made SPD a very young department — lacking in institutional knowledge, but generally technology-savvy and lacking only training.
Heavy lifting to migrate to a Windows SQL-based platform began in earnest during the late summer of 2016, with the goal of April 2017 for the cut-over date. Training and customization issues pushed that date out one month, to Tuesday, May 2. But, said Sajor, when the department stood up the new CAD and RMS systems, “they stood up.” There were no failures.
The $1.2 million project, brought in within budget, is several years ahead of a legislative requirement looming in 2020, requiring SPD to report to the state demographics on pedestrians and consensual stops. SPD’s new CAD program eliminates any extra work for officers by building in a screen to complete those requirements.
The department’s CAD program has also served as an inspiration to the Stockton Fire Department, which will migrate its own separate CAD to the same solution used by SPD. Now in the works, the fire department plans its own CAD cut-over for March or April of 2018.
“Technology really is the future for law enforcement. For me, it’s specific to what our staff here at the PD that worked on it, and IT, I always had a deep respect for what they did. But now, after this upgrade, words can’t express how much I respect them,” said Sajor, emphasizing “how much has to go right for us just to be able to send officers out into the community, to help the community when they call for help.”
It’s estimated that more than 60 percent of Californians have patient records in the state's immunization registry, a number that includes nearly 100 percent of children and almost 50 percent of adults.
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) won recognition for adapting an existing but modern and versatile solution to wrangle immunization data from seven regional registries into one location, the new California Immunization Registry (CAIR2). It was one of three agencies recognized in this area.
The state’s previous regional databases had begun as countywide pilot systems in the 1990s. But according to the CDPH, it had become “more difficult to maintain and no longer met the needs of our users.”
Among its deficiencies, the system offered limited access for people who had moved between different regions of the state; and had a limited ability to exchange data with Electronic Health Records (EHR), which is how roughly 90 percent of immunization records entered the original CAIR system. In practice, this had required health-care providers to enter records twice.
CAIR2, which went live on Sunday, April 30, was created using Wisconsin Immunization Registry (WIR) software that’s in the public domain and used by 17 other states including New York and Texas.
It operates on the Oracle platform — “well-suited for large databases,” CDPH said — and features a Linux operating system housed in a premium, tenant-managed services environment at the state Department of Technology.
As a result, EHR messages that previously took the system up to four days to process are now handled instantaneously.
CDPH did not specify the project’s cost or its exact savings, but told Government Technology via email it expects that by providing complete, accessible immunization records, providers can avoid “over-vaccination” and time wasted searching for patient records. The department said it’s also likely patient reminders will result in more complete vaccinations and help providers meet performance targets.
The new system’s speed, however, is clearly winning. The agency said it has shattered benchmarks and now processes roughly 2 million “vaccination-containing messages” a month, compared to about 300,000 previously.
“On CAIR2’s [initial] go-live date in October 2016, we received and processed nearly 250,000 real-time messages in one day, a testament to the volume CAIR2 can stand,” the department stated.
Looking up records, which is significantly quicker in CAIR2, appears to have become more popular as well; CDPH said “query-based parameter messages” increased from zero in April to 60,000 in August.
The system won’t be statewide until 2018, according to CDPH, when three remaining registries in the Central Valley and in San Diego and Imperial counties will be incorporated.
But in using the WIR technology, the state has been able to achieve another goal: to share its innovations with other agencies. In adapting WIR, officials changed about 25 percent of the final application.
“When a member state develops an enhancement," CDPH told Government Technology via email, "other participating states are allowed access to the code, thus reducing overall development costs."
Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.