Breaking ground in data warehousing

The Iowa state government hopes to create a data warehousing system that

the judicial, legislative and executive branches could mine for information

to help them make better decisions.

The initiative started more than a year ago when three agencies — the

Department of Revenue and Finance, the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Planning

division and the Department of Human Services — sent out requests for proposals

for a data warehousing platform.

Instead of three separate contracts, Iowa Chief Information Officer

Richard Varn's Information Technology Department persuaded the agencies

to agree on a single platform. Since then, about 30 other agencies — including

the corrections, natural resources, public safety and health departments

— have either provided selected databases or will participate, project manager

Linda Plazak said.

"We're going to build out iteration by iteration," she said.

Data warehouses contain enormous amounts of information and are used

to quickly set up elaborate queries and searches.

Iowa is using a scalable NCR Corp. platform with relational database

software installed by Bull Worldwide Information Systems. According to the

project proposal, hardware, training, professional services and other costs

total about $2.3 million.

Plazak said each agency is responsible for hiring a vendor to model

its database. Starting from scratch, it cost the state's justice department

$400,000 to $500,000. But the costs drop for successive participating agencies

because all they have to do is replicate the initial model, she said. The

corrections department, for example, spent about $70,000.

Iowa's initiative is unique because it involves agencies from all three

branches of government. In state government, agencies usually set up their

own separate data warehouses.

"We can't find any other state that has gotten all its people under

the same platform," Varn said.

Such a platform would be beneficial to agencies, the courts and lawmakers.

For example, projecting jail and prison capacity or detecting fraud and

abuse in Medicaid or welfare programs could help lawmakers make better policies

and laws, officials said.

"Already we've been able to answer questions that were unanswerable

before," Plazak said.

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