sota County School District (SCSD).

Sarasota saw an opportunity to consolidate government and education IT operations in an entirely new way. The county administrator and the SCSD superintendent realized that working together could help both branches of government.

As a result, Bob Hanson, CIO of Sarasota County, is also the CIO of the school district, and the two government branches split Hanson's salary and compensation package 50/50. Hanson already spent two months earlier this year working with school board staff performing a comprehensive analysis of the district's IT infrastructure and assets, and developing an IT strategy.

At the state level, North Dakota officially unveiled ConnectND in 2002. It was an ambitious plan to integrate the state's universities and government agencies into one administrative software platform so that front-line staff could use a common set of financial and human- and student-resource management applications.

On Jan. 1, 2005, the final four campuses of the North Dakota University System (NDUS) went live with financial and human-resource software -- completing the rollout of those two applications to all 11 NDUS campuses.

Other local governments dove into the shared applications pool. Though not necessarily IT consolidation projects, shared applications are another mechanism for governments to save money and get quality IT applications.

Wake County, N.C., took the lead on making a property tax application open to all local governments in the state. The county worked the North Carolina Association of County Commissioners (NCACC) to form an open and voluntary collaborative, and other counties could then decide whether they wanted to be involved.

The project, now known as the NCACC Collaborative Property Tax System, took on its first partner county in 2003 and presently serves six counties. Wake County paid for all software development, and then ceded all ownership rights to the NCACC, which then distributed the software to member counties, each of which contribute to offset the costs of licensing and rights to use.

This year, a trio of Texas cities took the concept a step further by launching a regional ERP project. The neighboring cities of Arlington, Grand Prairie and Carrollton used back-office software from the same systems integration company. When the company dropped support for the software, the cities were forced to confront an upgrade.

After reviewing the upgrade costs, the cities hit on the idea of arranging a joint purchase of a new ERP package. They struck a deal with the North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG) to host the shared applications. The software is licensed and owned by the NCTCOG, and each city has an inter-local agreement with the NCTCOG for services and makes payments on the hardware and software.

IT for Health

After years of relative neglect, health and human services systems increasingly became targets for replacement in 2005.

Integrating eligibility determination systems for health and human services programs topped the list for many jurisdictions. Huge eligibility systems integration projects in Texas and Utah have attracted attention, primarily to reduce costs. Processing eligibility applications for one social program is expensive, let alone for the many programs for which states are responsible.

Utah chose to build a new platform to create an integrated eligibility application for social services in the state. Now the state is knee-deep in implementing its electronic Resource and Eligibility Product (eREP) -- an automated eligibility determination system for several state managed programs, such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), food stamps and Medicaid. eREP will replace Utah's Public Assistance Case Management Information System -- a mainframe eligibility system developed in the 1980s.

When all eREP modules are successfully rolled out, the system will determine eligibility for more than 260,000 needy individuals per month for services offered by three state agencies -- the Department of Workforce Services, the Department of Human Services and the Department of Health.

At the end of 2004, Utah began piloting an eligibility-screening module that captures information to determine if a client or family is potentially eligible for state programs, and produces an application form that will become an electronic application submission. The state expects to go live with the actual eligibility system in 2006.

At the end of June, the Texas Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) announced a contract with Accenture to operate four Texas call centers as part of a plan to make it easier to apply for Medicaid, food stamps and other state programs, and save Texas $646 million over the next five years.

Under the five-year, $899 million contract, the company will also work with the state on developing the Texas Integrated Eligibility Redesign System (TIERS) -- an integral part of the HHSC's efforts to modernize its eligibility system.

TIERS is a browser-based system that will integrate the application process for more than 50 health and human services programs. TIERS will allow Texans to apply for a variety of services -- including Medicaid, food stamps, the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP), TANF and long-term care -- in person, through the Internet, over the phone and by fax or mail.

The HHSC was set to phase in the new system in November when Accenture took over processing CHIP applications. The CHIP application process, which was outsourced when the program was created in 2000, will be integrated with Medicaid, food stamps, TANF and long-term care as part of the contract with Accenture.

The broader issue of health IT also assumed greater prominence this year. Governments spend untold millions of dollars on health programs. Interoperable electronic health records and other reforms would create significant savings -- but only if a wide range of government officials, health-care providers, health insurers and others can agree on interoperability standards for health-care information and IT systems.

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt signaled his intention to attack the issue in a speech to government IT officials in June. He called for state officials to work jointly with the federal government to develop standards for health IT and quickly implement them.

As the source of payment for nearly half of the nation's health-care expenses, government can drive adoption of interoperable electronic health records and other money-saving solutions. "We intend to be highly collaborative on this," Leavitt said. "But make no mistake, we'll do it with a forced march mentality, and I intend to lead the way."

The next several years likely will be spent addressing the policy issues that health IT reforms create.

Open Source Activity

Finally open source applications continued to make inroads into government -- a trend that sparked its own series of policy questions throughout the year.

The rap on open source is that it can't be trusted, and relying on it for important back-office functionality is premature. Several jurisdictions, however, are in the process of proving that statement wrong.

Mississippi made Linux the core of a new mobile data infrastructure, the Automated System Project (ASP), which will link police, fire and emergency medical personnel from three counties. The ASP will launch in Hancock, Harrison and Jackson counties, but the hope is that it will go statewide and perhaps serve as a model for a national program.

The ASP team used open source software components running on Linux to take two formerly isolated systems -- a records management system purchased from a vendor and an in-house developed jail management system -- and got them talking to each other. The open source tools didn't come with the hefty price tag associated with commercial integration products.

Furthermore, Chicago is fine-tuning a vehicle registration system using HP servers running the Red Hat Linux operating system and an Oracle

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor