all of the data from the various subsystems that we had, and present it in one report to the feds in the way that they wanted it. For that we used another set of SAP tools from their BusinessObjects suite to do that work. And we were lucky because we purchased that set of tools in September 2008 for a totally different reason because we wanted to do better reporting out of SAP on the things that we were already doing. It just so happened then when we needed to do the federal reporting, we could use those tools to do that task.

We purchased the BusinessObjects suite in September 2008, and we really purchased it to get better reporting out of the SAP system we already had. So for example, we used SAP for HR. And to run reports about payroll or any of those things, we need sophisticated people who know how to do queries -- and the reports that come out are hard to read and they are not visual. So we purchased this tool to make that kind of day-to-day reporting that we do a lot more user friendly and a lot more acceptable by our managers. And then when this whole 1512 stuff kind of came, we're like, "Wow we can really use this tool to pull data from all these other kinds of system that we have, and get it out there in a very public facing way that's easy for people to see, understand," and that then has kind of spurred us to think about how we can get out more of the information we have in ways that citizens can respond to it.

So how much data does this system pull in for Pennsylvania?

We have 19 different state agencies that are reporting through our tool; we've got 3,500 vendors, grantees and subgrantees that are all filing data and information into our system that gets then sent to the feds. So it's a giant net that goes out and pulls all this information in. And I believe the state is responsible for somewhere in the realm of $12 billion that's flowing through the state -- the amount that we're responsible to report on.

We have an electronic war room with eight or 10 computers in it. About a week before the [stimulus] report is due, those 19 liaisons [one from each state agency] come to the room and start entering data. They do cleansing data there, they collect information from their subgrantees. We put them all in the same room because lots of questions come up. It was a lot easier to have them together as they are working through those issues instead of having them out in their various agencies.

Did Pennsylvania find any way to streamline that data collection process?

One of the things that we did to make sure the data that we were presenting was accurate is that we pre-populated as much of the information in the forms as possible before sending them out to our agencies and our subgrantees, which we were able to do because we had a lot of the information -- the entity's name, address, tax ID number, etc. -- in our key system or other systems. We would populate all of those cells so there was less chance of us getting back incomplete data that we would then have to verify and go back and forth a bunch of times. Because with a tax ID number, if somebody doesn't put the first two zeros in or whatever it may be, you just end up with junk data you have to spend time cleaning up.


Matt Williams  |  Associate Editor