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Integrating Hundreds of Applications

By Dennis McCafferty  |  Posted 09-20-2010 Print

In his role as CIO of California's Administrative Office of the Courts, Mark Dusman's mission is to consolidate a massive volume of data and make it accessible to all.

How did you deal with the case-management systems problem?

Dusman: It's one we're still in the middle of implementing. We now have versions of the final product up and running for six court locations. This is the bread-and-butter of our consolidation efforts, because courts depend on this information minute-by-minute.

In the beginning of this decade, we visited each court jurisdiction and found literally hundreds of products being used for case management. We now have this number down to 70. When we started, many of these products were off-the-shelf, and that created many, many unneeded complications.

In what sense?

Dusman: The off-the-shelf products were customized for the courts of California but didn't integrate with each other, so they couldn't share information. As technology trends moved toward multitier and Web services models, these companies weren't able to provide that. This kept the courts from being able to publish case information online.

We also have 17 different types of cases: Civil, criminal, mental health, family law and probate are among them. But the off-the-shelf products weren't made to deal with all of those, so jurisdictions would have to buy multiple products to deal with case management. And if you had a small court system where it's just two judges and four clerks who do everything, you need to go from criminal law in the morning to family law in the afternoon.

So having more than one system for these separate areas could be a drain?

Dusman: Not only that, but whenever a court needed to change its fee, fine or bail schedule, the vendor would charge to make the needed changes in the product. And if that vendor had multiple court jurisdictions for the same product, each jurisdiction would get charged separately for the same change. It just didn't make sense economically to keep doing it piecemeal.

Along the way, the state has created what it calls the California Courts Technology Center (CCTC). What functions are performed there?

Dusman: It's our central base for infrastructure needs, so we have this network established in one place. You don't want 58 data centers in 58 counties. It's a major investment to get it running, so we're outsourcing the hosting and managed services here, currently to SAIC.

We don't own the equipment in there or the facility. SAIC manages and takes care of it. This is a shared data center, too: a tier-four, secure, modern facility. Sharing it allows us to afford that level of technology. We have financial applications there running on Unix, and our computer-aided facilities management programs run on Unix and Windows, as well as the interim case-management systems.

And virtualization is part of this?

Dusman: Yes. To keep costs as low as possible, we've taken advantage of virtualization, which saves us 30 percent on the capital cost of the server needs. Then there's the lower cost of energy usage.

You're moving into the cloud as well?

Dusman: To a certain extent. With our tech center, we are looking for centralized applications or services, and we will purchase those off the Internet. But it's not like what all the tech magazines are describing, with our people going online to some big online marketplace and shopping for whatever they want. This is more of a private cloud system, with only a certain number of products and services available for us to acquire off the Web.

You're also taking greater advantage of AT&T's video conferencing services. How has that helped?

Dusman: For a court system, it's a great tool and saves lots of money. As you know, California is in a bad situation financially, so we're constantly looking for ways to reduce costs. It used to be that we'd need to pay the sheriff to escort an inmate out of the jail to the courthouse when there was an appearance, and then the sheriff's department would have to provide security. It was a huge expense, even if the inmate might only need to see the judge for a couple of minutes. With video conferencing, the prisoner doesn't move from the jail. It's significantly cheaper [than the previous process].


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