BLM buys possible ALMRS proxy

As the Bureau of Land Management tries to pick up the pieces from a failed project to create an all-encompassing computer system, a Denver company is quietly offering BLM offices off-the-shelf software that could give the agency the solution it had been seeking.

Premier Data Services has sold to BLM offices in Utah, Wyoming and Colorado a suite of software products that add electronic mapping capability to BLM's existing systems - a capability that BLM leaders had hoped to develop under the bureau's $400 million Automated Land and Mineral Record System project. BLM killed ALMRS after the "initial operating capability" version of ALMRS fell far short of expectations. BLM had worked on ALMRS for more than 15 years [FCW, April 12].

Officials had envisioned ALMRS as a means to replace paper-based processes as well as aging agency systems running on mainframes that are not Year 2000-compliant. ALMRS would have allowed BLM workers to speed through the process of managing, monitoring and updating close to a billion pages of records for more than 260 million acres of land that the federal government manages as well as for the mineral resources lying under another 300 million acres.

Interior officials have regrouped in an attempt to modernize BLM computer systems using commercial off-the-shelf products and a "modular" approach rather than attempting to build one large master system. They have moved key software programs off mainframes that are not Year 2000-compliant and put them onto a Year 2000-compliant network. Some BLM officials said the new system, called Legacy Rehost 2000, is useful and more nimble than the old mainframe-based system. They also believe the new LR 2000 system could be beefed up and coupled with Premier products to create a system that includes the "spatial" electronic mapping capability that had been envisioned under ALMRS. Such a capability would let land managers view the shapes and boundaries of the property they manage.

"We will, in effect, be able to accomplish the creation of spatial layers that we were trying to get with ALMRS," said Jim Gazewood, a petroleum engineer who worked with Premier products at BLM's Wyoming office. "ALMRS has been unable to deliver to us a spatial component that is effective."

Bob Johnson, president of Premier, said his company has been working on developing its suite of electronic mapping products since 1986. He said development has been based on industry needs from oil producers such as Mobil and Exxon to track industry's use of land and industry's compliance with regulations using maps and electronic documents. "Our initial focus was, Let's focus on industry end users.... The big push that we went after initially was the oil and gas industry and the mining industry," Johnson said.

Layers of information that can be displayed on an electronic map allow Premier clients such as Barrett Resources Corp., a Denver-based oil and gas exploration company, to see how their projects stack up against the competition's. "We use [the Premier suite of products] as a big exploration tool to see where our competitors are and what our competitors are doing," said Bo Apperson, a senior landman at Barrett who is familiar with BLM's efforts to develop ALMRS. "I think Premier Data [has] probably a much better and easier product to work with than ALMRS."

Johnson said he has realized that the information that companies manage using Premier products is often the same type of information that BLM needs to manage land. The company is targeting federal customers.Federal information needs, however, are more extensive than one company's information needs. Gazewood said BLM needs a system that can report on land status, track customer queries, keep financial records, track mining claims, approve oil and gas agreements and generate other types of reports - all functions that can be tied to an electronic map that gives land managers a better picture of what they are managing.

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