HUD removes walls between its databases

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has five program offices and more than 10 support offices, all of which maintain completely separate information systems. Any request for information that crosses office boundaries now takes days to fill, but the agency is testing a system that will f

The Department of Housing and Urban Development has five program offices and more than 10 support offices, all of which maintain completely separate information systems. Any request for information that crosses office boundaries now takes days to fill, but the agency is testing a system that will fill those requests within minutes.

HUD is contracting with MicroStrategy Inc. to develop a system based on the company's decision support system, DSS Suite, using the Internet-based DSS Web client. The DSS queries all of the agency's databases to generate data analysis and reports.

"We are in a very large effort to put together our systems," said Richard Burk, director of community connections at HUD. "The systems are very good, but they were all developed separately, and it's very difficult to get a HUD-wide view."

In the past, a request to find all the HUD-funded programs in a certain geographic area or during a certain time period required intensive searching through the systems at the offices of Housing, Public and Indian Housing, as well as Community Planning and Development and all of its other program and support offices. Before, that type of request could take two or three days. Using DSS, a query that broad could be answered in a few minutes, Burk said.

This ability to see across all of HUD's programs is especially important with the recent creation of the HUD Community Builders, a group of HUD employees serving as the public's connection to the agency. Those employees work with citizens to answer all their questions about HUD programs. To do that, Community Builders need to know everything that HUD knows.

"If you truly want them to be the face of HUD for our clients, you need to give them the information to support [our clients]," Burk said.

Burk's office is conducting a pilot test of the system with a dozen users of the multifamily housing data. The system will be officially rolled out April 1. By the end of July, five more areas will be added, and Burk hopes to have everything online by the end of the year.

The ease of use of MicroStrategy's DSS and availability of the DSS Broadcaster function, which pushes out information to end users via pager, phone, fax, printer, e-mail or the World Wide Web, were major factors in the decision to choose the company's product, Burk said. "We found it to be very intuitive, and we like the Broadcaster idea - the ability to proactively push out that data," he said.

HUD stores its information in an NCR Corp. Teradata data warehouse, and that also figured into the decision to pick MicroStrategy's solution. "It was extremely robust," Burk said. "We wanted a tool that could handle the amount of data we had."

The system initially is intended only for the more than 9,000 HUD employees across the country, but it gradually will be made available to affiliated people outside HUD, including mayors, governors, congressmen and citizens through the Internet or HUD's kiosks. "That's down the line, but once you have the data and the system...then it becomes a heck of a lot easier to set up," Burk said.

HUD is MicroStrategy's first customer since entering the federal market last September, but the company does not expect it to be the last. "Government agencies are finally beginning to realize the value they can get out of this kind of knowledge management," said Robert Silverman, vice president of MicroStrategy's Government Solutions Group. "They know we can help them make better business decisions."

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