Railroad agency rolls toward e-commerce

The Federal Railroad Administration is on track to complete the installation

of Oracle Federal Financials, a commercial off-the-shelf software platform

that will enable the agency to easily link its financial management system

to new electronic commerce applications.

The project will clear the way for the software to be installed throughout

the Transportation Department. The railroad agency, which primarily collects

fines for the failure to meet rail safety standards, went live with Oracle

Federal Financials earlier this month.

In a move to conduct electronic transactions with users and customers,

DOT is using the Oracle Corp. package without customizing the software.

The Oracle financial applications, which are accessed using an World Wide

Web browser, are designed to interact with Oracle's iStore e-commerce platform,

which DOT is using to make some goods and services available via the Internet.

Rolling out the software at all DOT agencies is expected to be completed

in late 2001, according to David Kleinberg, DOT's deputy chief financial

officer. Next up is DOT's Office of the Inspector General, which will begin

to use the software this month. But the true test for the software will

be automatically producing financial statements for FRA and the IG office

at the end of the fiscal year.

Jerry Schoenauer, director of financial services at FRA, said the smooth

conversion from a nearly 30-year-old legacy system surprised him. "The software

forces us into rethinking how we do business," Schoenauer said. "We can

actually exist the way the software is and recover economies of scale using

it."

The belief that government requirements are too unique for COTS products

is often a disqualifier for financial management systems, but not in this

case. "Every indicator is it's going to meet all our needs," Schoenauer

said. "The whole goal is if we capture the data right, we can produce better

financial statements for our auditors without adjustments. Let the system

do the work."

That attitude toward COTS products should be a model for implementation

throughout government, said Steve Perkins, senior vice president and general

manager for Oracle federal government and financial services.

Oracle strives to meet the requirements tested for by the federal Joint

Financial Management Improvement Program for core financial system software,

he said, so few changes are needed later in implementation. Oracle's products

are flexible enough to be customized in some areas without touching the

underlying code base, he said.

The less an agency customizes software, the more capable it is to take

advantage of upgrades and interfaces with other systems, Perkins said. For

instance, Oracle's iStore is an e-commerce application that provides a Web-based

channel for selling products directly to customers without assistance. The

iStore application is directly integrated with DOT's back-end financial

applications, Perkins said.

DOT's implementation also marks the first use of the latest Oracle release — Federal Financials 11 — in the federal government. The new release is

a user-oriented application accessible through a Web browser. The software

is run in a single data center, yet is accessible on any agency desktop

via the Internet.

Perkins credits the successful transition at FRA to the involvement

of DOT at all levels of the process. DOT's Kleinberg has set the tone for

adapting to the software across a very complex set of businesses and without

major modifications or compromising business processes, he said.

"It's a matter of the partnership between the integrator, Oracle, and the

customer, DOT," Perkins said. "I think it's a good example of the right

way of doing things."

Oracle worked closely with DOT managers and held weekly meetings to monitor

progress and discuss the project's steps.

Perkins said he plans to enthusiastically promote the idea of being

an e-business to DOT managers. Even Oracle is following the model, by implementing

the same functions as DOT to cut $1 billion in operating costs out of its

$10 billion-a-year business, he said.

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