Interior agency gets smart

The Bureau of Land Management has cut costs and increased information sharing thanks to business intelligence software, prompting its counterparts at the Interior Department to consider taking up the technology.

"It's a system that has made our job a lot easier," said Terry Brokovich, BLM's information resources management adviser to the assistant director for the business and fiscal resources directorate.

Business intelligence software allows organizations to access, analyze and exchange data. Workers can use queries to find patterns and trends among vast amounts of disparate information. "It's about repurposing data that can come from different sources," said Neil Patil Sr., Brio Software Inc.'s director of product marketing.

BLM turned to the technology in 1997, mostly out of necessity — the hardware that ran its old financial program was being replaced and the bureau wanted to decrease paper use. With Brio Software's intelligence line, BLM built a comprehensive management information system that churns out electronic reports on finances and operations in almost real time.

"BLM is a classic example of an enterprise that needed to reduce the ways it disseminated information," said Brian Gentile, Brio's executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

The software has enabled the agency to track spending and see if objectives are being met, according to Lester Knutsen, president of Advanced DataTools Corp., BLM's integrator.

"BLM can go in and say, 'Congress gave us this much money, and this is what we accomplished,'" Knutsen said. "It tells management exactly how well they're performing at all levels of the organization."

The agency has given its entire workforce access to the Web-enabled system.

"It allowed us to open up our data to everyone in the agency," said Stan Curtis, deputy project manager for BLM's budget planning system. This has generated conversations and led to borrowing best practices, he said.

Employees also can personalize data by formatting and telling the system to refresh on a periodic basis. "I can slice and dice the reports and have it back in 30 seconds," Brokovich said.

Over the years, BLM has added capabilities to the system, including budget planning, collection and billing, cost management, customer research, workload, and performance-based contracting, with successes along the way.

"The collection and billing system allows us to electronically collect revenues, [cutting collection time] from six to eight weeks to 24 to 72 hours," he said.

Further benefits include about $1.6 million a year in savings, with $1.2 million coming from printing costs and the rest from labor.

Although BLM is a business intelligence pioneer on the Interior front, it has company in other government quarters. Agencies drawing on Brio's resources include the Social Security Administration, the Army, the Air Force and the Navy, Patil said.

"The query tool was once solely used by an [information technology] developer, but now we're seeing thousands of business and government managers using it," he said.

BLM recently briefed Interior on its business intelligence methodology and management information system. The Minerals Management Service and Office of Surface Mining are slated to try the software this year, with the rest of the agencies aiming to test the software in 2003, Brokovich said.

BLM also has some enhancements in the pipeline. Within the next six to eight months, it plans to incorporate information on government investments and work processes. "Pretty much you can create any type of report," Patil said.

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BLM work-arounds

The Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management recently got a lesson in dependence.

A federal judge ordered Interior to shut down its Web site in December 2001 after a computer security firm broke through security systems and allegedly cut a check from American Indian trust funds.

Because of the shutdown, the bureau received "hundreds and hundreds" of credit card requests for purchases such as maps that had to come in manually, said Terry Brokovich, the bureau's information resources management adviser to the assistant director for the business and fiscal resources directorate. "It convinced a lot of managers that we really were dependent on" Brio Software Inc. to manage their financial records.

Although the bureau's management information system doesn't contain individual American Indian trust data and is accessible only through its intranet, Brio is looking at adding more security measures, said Neil Patil Sr., director of product marketing for Brio.

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