Embracing change is not without risk. Few agencies know this better than the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS).

In 1999, the agency replaced an older, Unisys-based job matching system called Ohio Job Net with a newer system called Ohio Works. Ohio Job Net had been very popular among users, but the job matching system had begun to show its age. Job Net did not comply with the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which requires states to provide one-stop employment and training services. The time was ripe for a change.

The state went to work developing Ohio Works. The Ohio Works system was written in a proprietary language called ColdFusion, and was designed to allow job seekers to post resumes, employers to post vacancies and all users to access data on salaries and hiring trends.

But Ohio Works was fraught with problems, and the problems released a flurry of accusations and negative publicity. Critics charged that the state did not provide proper oversight of project partner Accenture, that there was a lack of records on employees assigned to the project and rubber-stamp approval of invoices without review of the work.

The Ohio Works system was prone to technical problems from the beginning. Job seekers and employers reportedly found the system complex and difficult to use. They complained of being disconnected from the system after signing in, being required to provide excessive personal data and being unable to browse job listings. The internal segment of Ohio Works, known as ServiceLink, was prone to losing data.

These are the problems Tom Hayes inherited when he took over as director of the newly created ODJFS.

Cleaning Up The Mess

Hayes initiated a competitive bid process to find a consulting firm to analyze the state of Ohio Works. The project was awarded to Compuware Corp. of Columbus, Ohio. Compuware studied the program, and presented the state with three options.

First, the state could continue with the existing Ohio Works system while attempting to modify and stabilize the underlying code. Compuware rejected this option due to the inherent instability and uncertain future of ColdFusion. The company stated in an October 2001 report to the ODJFS: "Not only would ODJFS be building a key enterprise level system on a niche product, but that niche product seems to be in a state of flux." The projected cost of this option was $25.4 million.

Second, ODJFS could rewrite the system to work with the department's existing IBM Websphere/Oracle/Unix computer platform. This option would require Ohio Works to be rebuilt from the ground up, but Compuware anticipated that the rewrite would result in a product that was more stable, more robust and longer lasting. Total anticipated cost to the state: $26.6 million.

Third, the department could undertake a two-phase, hybrid approach that would attempt to stabilize the existing system and then migrate it to the department standard platform. This final option would yield some cost savings in analysis and design required, but the savings would be quickly eaten by the need to fix the problems inherent in early versions of Ohio Works. This hybrid solution would cost the state $36.6 million.

After quickly rejecting the first alternative, Compuware was left with the final two options. Since the hybrid option would cost an estimated 30 percent more than the second alternative, Compuware recommended the second option. Hayes supported the recommendation, identifying ways that a new system could be constructed. In a report to state Sen. Richard Finan, Hayes suggested that the department explore options such as constructing an all-new system, modeling a system on one existing in the public domain, or using a combination of commercial tools and search engines. Ohio agreed, and the rewrite was under way.

In the meantime, the popular Ohio Job Net has