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Louisiana Streamlines How It Bills Agencies for IT Services

As part of a consolidation overhaul, the Office of Technology Services has deployed software that aggregates data on what services agencies are using and to improve billings for cost recovery.

by / August 24, 2017

Louisiana's Office of Technology Services (OTS) has found a completely new way to use data aggregation and analysis technology to improve its bottom line.

The state debuted a solution from San Francisco-based Splunk in its enterprise operation center to analyze performance, management capacity and availability; it also examines what OTS services state agencies are using to improve billing information.

The project is part of an ongoing consolidation effort spearheaded by Dickie Howze, state CIO since 2013 and a GovTech Top 25 Doers, Dreamers & Drivers of 2016 honoree. The technology also plays well with a new statewide hyper-converged platform aimed at streamlining health-care processes; and with a statewide shift from a federated to a shared services model. So far, the state has saved $75 million in its first year of consolidation.

The Splunk Enterprise implementation, part of the state’s ongoing information technology modernization, unified 20 executive branch agencies and 850 staffers. By aggregating data from a variety of sources into a single view, OTS can see which agencies might conceivably owe them a payment for everything from network services to mainframe processing.

The shift was a welcome step away from legacy systems and siloed viewpoints, according to Chief Technology Officer Michael Allison.

“Once we consolidated in 2014, this was the very first project out of the gates that allowed us to look at enterprise solutions. It is at the core of what we do from not only a cost recovery and billing standpoint but also from an operational center” perspective, said Allison.

The Splunk deployment should also drive revenue to OTS, which is a cost recovery agency and doesn’t receive a state budget allocation.

“We only receive funding by billing back our customer agencies for services rendered. So, our ability to show back those costs accurately is really of utmost importance,” said Matthew Vince, OTS director of product management and chief design officer.

Forty states including Louisiana use Splunk solutions, as do an undetermined number of cities and counties, but agency and company officials agreed this is the first time the company’s products have been used in billing back for IT services.

“I am not aware of another customer leveraging Splunk in this unique way, of being kind of the center of a billing model. If it’s out there, it’s on your network, you can collect it via Splunk and then really ask any question of your data,” said Kevin Davis, Splunk's vice president of public sector.

Splunk Enterprise unifies a formerly federated approach in which 16 state agencies frequently had 16 answers to the same problem, Allison said. It collates information and allows the state to generate reports for both its audit and customer billing processes.

Without its single view, scaling at the shared services level would be “very difficult,” and “almost impossible to unravel all that spaghetti of who’s using what," said Vince. Enterprise has also been helpful as the state works to achieve so-called “four nines” readiness, or 99.99 percent up time and service availability.

“In order to meet those kinds of metrics, we have to be able to respond to issues almost immediately, basically," he said. "And so having these types of reports and alert generation and visibility of the operations is pretty critical for us as far as hitting those milestones."

OTS uses the Enterprise solution along with a new statewide hyper-converged platform from Nutanix, VMware’s ESX hypervisor technology and NSX virtualization to manage the state's Medicare and Medicaid enrollment.The Department of Health’s business needed a way to better integrate eligibility and enrollment, and make both more easily accessible, according to Vince

Previously, the state’s Medicare/Medicaid eligibility system had gone offline nightly from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. — prime registration hours, particularly for Medicaid users. In one case, a team led by Derek Williams, the state’s director of data center operations, discovered enrollment was “astronomically” high because residents were applying merely to determine their eligibility.

Now, not only is the system available around the clock, but the state has added internal- and external-facing dashboards that offer insight to customers and staffers alike on how the system is performing, how applications are working and whether any particular component is presenting a challenge to website visitors.

The state is also doing more to tell applicants up-front what documents they need, so as to provide them a better experience, and is looking to its Splunk solution for feedback.

Vince and Allison said the state will likely continue to expand and refine its use of Splunk Enterprise.

“It will continue as we modernize and new services come on board. Splunk will be monitoring, managing, forecasting. It will be the tool that kind of runs that scope," said Allison, adding that the state's architectural vision is for cloud-first solutions.

“Because brick-and-mortar is something that we just don’t want to invest in anymore," he added. "And as technology changes, we want to make sure that it is adaptive."

As it did with billback, the state will evaluate other use cases for the potential adaptability to Splunk.

“I think our lesson learned there is, it’s not just kind of the public use cases that everybody else is doing, but start thinking about what are the challenges that you have statistically, and how can you get them done in a creative way,” Vince said.

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Theo Douglas Staff Writer

Theo Douglas is a staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes covering municipal, county and state governments, business and breaking news. He has a Bachelor's degree in Newspaper Journalism and a Master's in History, both from California State University, Long Beach.

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