Sometimes getting what you need means building it yourself.

When the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) needed a system to streamline the complex right-of-way process, officials searched extensively for existing software that could meet their requirements.

VDOT's Right of Way and Utilities staff is responsible for appraisal and acquisition of property rights necessary for construction and improvement of state roads, adjustment of affected utilities, and relocation of displaced homes and businesses. VDOT had an IT system to help perform these activities, but by the early 1990s, that system was limping along. VDOT considered enhancing the old system, buying a new system or building one from scratch.

"Right of way is a unique business, and no one had anything on the shelf we could buy," said C.L. Griggs Jr., information technology section manager in VDOT's Right of Way and Utilities Management Division. "We looked into enhancing what we had and realized that technology had advanced so much we would just be throwing good money after bad."

VDOT decided to build a new right-of-way system itself. Within months it organized a steering committee and user group committee, and issued an RFP to identify a company that could help implement a new system. The agency awarded the contract to BearingPoint, and the Right of Way and Utilities Management System (RUMS) went live in August 1999.

RUMS helps right-of-way and utilities agents generate, customize, store and retrieve hundreds of forms, letters and other documentation; automate the assignment and reassignment of work to division agents; track legal processes; and track the maintenance and disposal of surplus properties.

Using RUMS, VDOT right-of-way managers can quickly see the status of highway projects, along with key deadlines for right-of-way and utilities transactions. When necessary, managers can use the system to reassign agents to meet deadlines.

Putting RUMS on the Shelf

Like VDOT, the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) sought a system that could manage its right-of-way issues. In spring 2000, CalTrans contacted Griggs to inquire about RUMS. Although CalTrans never purchased RUMS, the inquiry made Griggs and other agency managers realize RUMS was potentially marketable.

Soon after, VDOT decided to offer RUMS licensing agreements to other states. Once the decision was made, putting the process in place was straightforward. The state already had intellectual property documentation in place allowing it to sell software. Griggs then copyrighted RUMS and drew up a licensing agreement, and VDOT was ready for business.

"It didn't require a lot of effort, it's just that it's never been done before," he said. "We'd reached a point in the road and needed to know where the next point was, so we'd have to find someone to guide us there. Now that I know the road, it would be fairly easy to do it all over again."

Today, VDOT sells the rights to use and adapt the RUMS source code for $250,000 -- or 10 percent of the cost of the system developed with BearingPoint. VDOT plans to put the money back into Virginia's transportation programs.

Griggs believes what VDOT is doing with RUMS will be a catalyst in changing the way government agencies view intellectual property. Traditionally, he said, Virginia -- like most other states -- develops various systems, uses them internally and keeps them to itself.

"If someone found out about a system we had in the past, we'd either give it to them or not share with them at all. We'd keep using it until it became so old and rickety that we'd have to go find something new," he said. "I think states that have strong and unique systems are going to realize they are of value to others and put them on the market. Other states will then consider those rather than paying a lot more money to develop a proprietary system on their own."

First in Line

Minnesota was first to buy a RUMS license from VDOT.

"We conducted a nationwide search for a right-of-way system and found there weren't a lot of off-the-shelf things available that would meet our needs," said Kevin Leonard, MIS supervisor for the Minnesota Department of Transportation's Office of Land Management. "RUMS had the best look and feel, and the source code met our technology standards. We felt RUMS would cut down on some of our research and development time, and also fit within the time and budget we had established for the project."

The Minnesota DOT issued an RFP for an implementation partner, and BearingPoint was chosen. The state expects to have the first phase completed in February 2005.

Maine also recently purchased a RUMS license agreement. The Maine Department of Transportation needed to increase productivity and complete more projects on time.

"A lot of data we were entering was redundant -- we would enter it 30 to 40 times," said Bill Leet, chairman of Maine's right-of-way database steering committee. "We were looking for a system that would eliminate the clerical end of the equation and get rid of processes that were slowing our system down."

Maine DOT officials looked at several systems across the country, but when they talked with Virginia about RUMS, they realized they finally found something similar to what they were looking for. Maine DOT officials eventually visited Virginia for a RUMS demo.

"The majority of the right-of-way systems out there are simply tracking tools," said Leet. "We wanted a tool for the front-line worker. We were very impressed with RUMS. It had a lot of the functionality we desired."

The agency purchased a license agreement and is now developing an RFP to identify an implementation partner. It hopes to have a system operating by summer 2005.

Both Minnesota and Maine agree their decision was based more on RUMS' quality than the fact that another government agency was selling it. "It's really about prescribing the right technology for the job -- whether it's a government agency or an outside vendor -- it really doesn't matter as long as they have the product to fit our needs," said Leonard.

Secrets to Success

VDOT officials said they expect to make as much as $12 million selling RUMS software licenses to other government agencies over the next several years. Griggs attributes RUMS' appeal to it's being a well-built, reliable system that has been successful from the beginning.

"RUMS came in on time and on budget with everything it promised to deliver. It's been up and running ever since. We've had no major issues with it," he said.

Griggs said VDOT's director also strongly supported the project from the beginning and ensured committee members stuck with the project from beginning to end. "That kept the steering committee intact, which was critical because every time you met, you didn't have a bunch of new people that didn't know what happened before. Everybody was there from the get-go."

Agencies that opt to sign a licensing agreement with VDOT will integrate RUMS into their own systems -- a procedure that will require modifications and possibly an implementation partner.

"My feeling is that a jurisdiction that buys this cannot implement it alone," said Griggs. "It's very important to us that states be successful in implementing RUMS, and I've made it clear to other jurisdictions that if they aren't going to do this the right way, I'd rather they not bother. VDOT selling RUMS licenses was a small feather in our cap. The long-term goal is to see other states become successful in implementing their own RUMS-based systems."

Justine Brown  |  Contributing Writer