For government IT officials across the country, developing a new application can be a gamble. On one hand, governments need to upgrade systems to enhance security, streamline operations and keep up with citizen demand for data access. But the development process can drag on as programmers try to perfect applications for users -- wasting time and costing taxpayers millions in the meantime.

Last spring, one state agency found a solution that could cut down rework time and, in turn, save money: a tool developed by visualization software provider iRise that allows business analysts, programmers and citizens to get a sneak peek of an application and give feedback before it goes live.

The Iowa Workforce Development (IWD) leveraged iRise on a $20 million project to modernize the state tax system for unemployment insurance. The result, set to launch in April, will replace a legacy mainframe system with a Web-based application that will help employers, accountants and payroll firms manage tax accounts and also will simplify the unemployment insurance tax system for internal IWD employees.

"We're chasing paper around the office," said Erich Grubert, business project director for the IWD. "We can't track what we need to track. We're running out of fields where to put things. This new system will allow us to follow up on the things we need to and track every document and every request from the beginning, [all] electronically."

Using the visualization platform helped get the project off the ground, Grubert said. Before that, he had to give PowerPoint presentations and make "somewhat realistic" drawings to try and convey the concept. Programmers would then design their interpretation of that concept, he said, "but oftentimes it would come back not the way we wanted."

This is common in state and local governments. Locked in design limbo, the back and forth can go on for months or even years as money disappears with nothing solid to show for it.

"Business users really don't know what they want until they see and interact with it," said Mitch Bishop, chief marketing officer for iRise. "If the first time they do that is after it's been coded and tested, then you've already spent the money and it's going to cost more to change it. We like to say iRise lets you fail early and cheaply versus late and expensively."

With iRise, organizations can test-drive and experience systems early on, which speeds up the process and helps prevent cost overruns. For management analysts at the IWD, this secure, collaborative visualization platform helped them create designs and share the interactive mockups with stakeholders. Management analysts say they were able to collaborate online, pull up screenshots and create accurate designs.

Now, instead of a mainframe-based legacy build of the application, which was expensive to support, IWD's new system will allow employees to better manage accounting, auditing, collections activity and more. Users also can go online and provide wage information, make payments or adjust their accounts.

"What we're seeing in government is a move to modernize systems and provide better citizen access," Bishop said. "The last thing we need is to have these projects go over budget and be late."

Russell Nichols  |  Staff Writer