February 28, 2013 By Brian Heaton
The days of prisoner and parolee data being shackled to an outdated mainframe system are almost over in Illinois.
The Illinois Department of Corrections (DOC) is in the midst of implementing Offender360, a cloud-based inmate tracking and management system. The first phase of the transition should be finished in June. Most offender records should be fully transferred to the new system in about a year.
Offender360 is a product from Tribridge, an IT services and business consulting firm. The system is built on the Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online platform.
In an interview with Government Technology, Gladyse Taylor, assistant director of the DOC, said the mainframe will continue to serve as the DOC’s primary repository for inmate information for a while. But that data is now being migrated to the Offender360 environment in a “read-only” state, so users can start to get familiar with the new system before it goes live.
Approximately 40 percent of the information the DOC uses regularly has been integrated into Offender360 so far.
Mike Batt, senior director of Dynamics State and Local Government, Education and Healthcare at Microsoft, said that streamlining and consolidating disparate systems by moving to the cloud will give the DOC improved functionality and efficiency. He said users of the system should expect better accountability on everything from where the prisoner is, to notifying victims upon a prisoner’s release.
Having better access to data may also help DOC leaders make more informed decisions. For example, if a new state law is passed that affects the way inmate data is handled or the kind of data that is tracked, those processes will be fully automated, instead of being done by hand.
Taylor couldn’t provide a specific dollar amount the state would save with the changes, but felt a modern and automated cloud-based system would help the DOC better evaluate its prisoner population through all points in the Illinois criminal justice system.
“Ideally the end product will be something that gives a fully integrated criminal justice system here in the state of Illinois where we can go from the arrest and bail determination through discharge and parole,” Taylor said.
The department realized its mainframe system was obsolete and started looking at upgrade options back in 2009. Developed in the 1980s, the mainframe was built using the COBOL programming language. But as workers versed in the outdated language left the DOC, the state was losing expertise to work on the system.
Taylor said the DOC would constantly have to program the mainframe environment, which at times led to difficulty obtaining on-demand information on the offender population. Combined with the age of the mainframe, Taylor explained that DOC officials “were kind of forced” into making a change. It took about two years to gather all the requirements and figure out the appropriate options the DOC needed.
The DOC partnered with Microsoft in 2010 to update computers and software. They launched the first phase of the Offender360 project last December. Since then, DOC staff members have been scheduled for orientations on the new system at a rate of about 100 people per work day.
The state paid just under $4 million for the initial software, licensing and support from Microsoft. Three years remain on the enterprise agreement between the DOC and Microsoft for Offender360 and CRM online components. That will cost Illinois roughly $1 million per year.
According to Batt, the phased implementation was preferred to a “light switch” move where one system is turned on entirely as the old one is turned off, primarily due to the complexity of the project. Batt said moving the Illinois DOC off its mainframe system consists of taking "40 or 50” applications and paper-based processes and trying to automate and consolidate them.
In addition, the learning curve for the DOC’s 5,500-plus users was also a consideration when deciding to transition to the cloud in stages.
Offender360 won’t be an “off-the-shelf” solution for the state. Batt said Illinois has some data requirements — such as gang affiliations and tattoos — which will necessitate some modifications to the system before it goes live.
In addition, Batt revealed that electronic medical records and some risk assessment analysis components will eventually be added, along with some other tools that help determine where a particular inmate should be assigned in the overall corrections system.
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