For a large government agency to design an IT system that tracks the status of all its projects would be difficult. To design such a system in a week would be seemingly impossible.
Yet the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) did just that. The agency's new Web-based system, Dashboard, allows VDOT employees and Virginia citizens to instantly assess the status of construction projects throughout the state.
"The technology component of Dashboard took less than a week to design," said Murali Rao, VDOT's IT application director. "Things have matured quite a bit since then, but the basic shell is the same."
Dashboard provides the latest information on budgets, schedules and work orders (project changes that result in additional costs) for VDOT projects ready to go to construction, as well as projects already under construction.
The data that flows into Dashboard is pooled, and a color is assigned to each project based on how the project ranks. The colors assigned to each project correspond to the colors of a traffic signal: Green means a project is on track, on time and within budget; orange means the project is at risk of falling behind schedule, going over budget or using too many work orders; and red means the project is behind schedule, over budget or has too many work orders.
The overall goal of Dashboard is to improve the delivery of VDOT projects on time and on budget and to hold the agency accountable for its performance.
"With VDOT spending over $3 billion of public money every year, taxpayers have a right to know how their money is being used," said VDOT Commissioner Philip Shucet. "The Dashboard holds VDOT accountable for its work in a very public way."
Data Rich, Information Poor
Prior to Dashboard, VDOT used two old mainframe systems to track projects. One system was designed for developing projects to go into advertisement, and the second was designed for paying contractors and tracking the status of payments on a month-to-month basis.
"To try and find the cumulative totals on all the projects in a district or residency would take an enormous amount of time and paper," said Connie Sorrell, VDOT's chief of policy and organizational development. "The department was data rich and information poor. We had lots of data being spewed out, but no good management reporting tools."
The push to develop Dashboard originated with Shucet. As commissioner, he was looking for a high-level management information system that could give him a broad-level view of the status of VDOT projects. When Shucet found there was no tool available to help him, he asked VDOT's IT group to develop one.
Dashboard was developed internally with no extra costs to VDOT and was officially launched in August 2002. According to Rao, the data warehouse is Dashboard's driving engine.
"We extract data from various transactional systems like the financial system, construction management system, utilities management system, etc.," Rao said. Once the data comes into the data warehouse, it is programmed to run various queries on the data. "We then apply the Dashboard business logic to the data and present it on the Dashboard," he explained. "The data is just one day old, so it's near real-time."
Shucet said Dashboard was originally designed as an internal tool for VDOT. But as the project matured, it became much more. On March 12, 2003, a public version was unveiled.
"Once we got into it we realized its value to the public," he said. "It's kind of like hanging all your laundry out on the clothesline for everyone to see, but it is the public's money, after all."
Technologically Dashboard suffered few setbacks along the way, primarily