May 21, 2003 By Justine Brown
"People were never efficient in keeping up the data in the old legacy mainframes," Rao said. "There were so many business policies being practiced that had been status quo for a long time. When we exposed that data to the Dashboard and the Dashboard rules, many data issues became apparent."
Fortunately the department was quick at work. Though it took a couple months, VDOT employees eventually agreed on rules to ensure data going into the system was clean, consistent and up-to-date. To guarantee the credibility of project ratings, VDOT decided that any projects delayed due to business rule debates or missing data would automatically default to red on the Dashboard.
"You have to qualify through the rules procedure to come to green, so the data integrity is unquestionable," Rao said.
Meanwhile, Sorrell's challenge came to light when discussions shifted to taking Dashboard public. "We were very concerned about being overwhelmed when the public accessed the information," she said. "Many people were worried they'd spend all their time dealing with angry e-mails about projects that were in trouble."
Fortunately that fear proved unfounded, and the public was very receptive. VDOT had 14,000 visits to Dashboard within weeks of its public launch, yet received only about 100 e-mail complaints.
Internal feedback was positive as well. Personnel at VDOT district and field offices can now see budgets, schedules and work orders in an integrated fashion. "They know which areas they need to pay attention to," Rao said. "It's a fantastic tool for internal management. It's also allowed us to identify several areas where business processes could be streamlined, and they are being worked on as we speak."
Sorrell said knowing that 75 percent of projects are on budget is important. "We've learned a tremendous amount about some of our business processes by being able to access this information in such an easy-to-use, cumulative way," she said.
Deadlines and Dollars
VDOT envisions several enhancements in Dashboard's future.
Eventually VDOT hopes to integrate GIS data -- visitors to the site could then click on a project and get a map of exactly where that project is taking place. They could also view a graphic of what the area will look like when the project is done, while a "Drive It" feature would let them virtually drive a road both before and after construction.
The most important aspect of Dashboard will still be the improved management of VDOT projects. Sorrell said those improvements are already occurring.
"Projects are absolutely being run better," she said. "It's been a tremendous improvement in our ability to know the status of our projects, and then know what steps we need to take to improve their timeliness and ensure they are on budget. What gets measured gets done."
Shucet said though more state departments of transportation are providing the public information via their Web sites, they aren't providing them the full story. He believes Dashboard-like projects will soon spread to other state DOTs as public demand for more information increases.
"While we are saying, 'Here was our original deadline, and here's where we are now,' other states are simply saying, 'Here's where we are now.' We've taken it a bit further to hang it out there for everyone to see where we're doing well and where we're not doing well. Demand for that type of information is on the rise."
As word spreads, Dashboard-type systems may become more common in other departments within Virginia government. Sorrell said Dashboard has already increased pressure on agencies to provide better access to information about how tax dollars are spent.
For now, Dashboard will continue helping VDOT track projects and monitor progress.
"We're not going to make any dramatic, immediate changes in active construction projects just because we have the Dashboard," Shucet said. "But I do believe we will dramatically change the future of our construction program and the future of how we manage deadlines and budgets."
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