COUNTY-WIDE DATA SHARING:
BETTER WAYS TO SHARE

SUMMARY OF KEY POINTS

Advances in technology and improvements in Santa Barbara County’s information technology infrastructure have created new opportunities to improve the County’s processes for collecting, storing, and accessing data. The Grand Jury investigated both current and proposed projects pertaining to this issue and found three alternatives, each of which may compete for significant County funding. Because the County cannot fund all needs, it must select what appears to be the highest priority. This report seeks to give focus to what appear to be the most promising and cost effective approaches. The Grand Jury is aware that any new technology initiative must start with the same steps: identifying what business practices can best benefit from a technology solution, what information is already collected to support these practices, and what yet needs to be collected. Only then can decisions be made about the specifics of hardware, software, and other design elements of an information technology project and the associated costs. Included in this report are recommendations as to how this could be achieved.

There appear to be three distinct relevant initiatives within the County. One consists of the Data Sharing projects between Departments, a second is the County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor’s ReGIS project (a geographic information system with a large database at its core), and a third is the Data Warehouse project initially funded this year by the County Administrator’s office as part of the Economic Forecast Project at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Of the three initiatives, the first two, Data Sharing and ReGIS, are preferable to the UCSB Data Warehouse in terms of costs to and benefits for the people of the County.

Data Sharing among Departments will improve the County’s ability to compete for grants (non-County sources of funds) in all Departments and will help to keep, extend, and renew current multiyear grants, to the ultimate benefit of the County’s taxpayers. Information that is or is not public would be defined by County policy.

The increased accuracy promised by Data Sharing could reduce the County’s vulnerability to litigation or the loss of grant funds. The ability to accommodate the predicted growth in service needs identified by the County’s 30-year population projections also will be facilitated.

The Grand Jury believes that a budget commitment should be formalized and increased to support Data Sharing in all Departments. The County will recoup these costs from increased and better services, and may find grant funds to underwrite some of the costs.

 

OTHER KEY POINTS

Improved communication among Departments will improve staff productivity and job satisfaction. This will reduce employee turnover, helping to maintain the knowledge pool shared by experienced workers, and minimize the need to add new employees and the space and equipment they would require.

Competitive grants are available for which the County can apply to encourage Data Sharing among Departments.

OBJECTIVE

The objective of this study is to determine how the process of collecting, storing, assessing, and utilizing County data could be improved in order to

  1. increase the information available for decision making within County government,
  2. increase the success of programs in the County,
  3. increase the potential of receiving future awards of collaborative grant funds to the County to provide better services at less cost for citizens of the County, and
  4. increase County employee productivity and job satisfaction.

Secondarily, the County’s process of prioritizing and funding Information Technology projects was assessed.

INTRODUCTION

A comparison of various data storage and transfer technologies mentioned in the report are set forth as Appendix A. The reader might find it helpful to refer to this Appendix while going through the report.

Data collected in the process of professional service delivery by the County serves many purposes. For example:

The County Administrator, Department heads, and County Information Technology (IT) professionals believe that it is difficult and expensive to design a single data collection and retrieval system for immediate decision-making, auditing, and for assessment of services already performed. All three functions are needed by County government, but to provide them in a centralized fashion does not appear to be economically sound or practical. In addition, IT projects must compete for available tax dollars. Competing County priorities result in inconsistent funding, often leaving Departments to their own resources to figure out how to pay for badly needed technology from their existing budget allocations. Unfortunately, this is often at the expense of services that could have been provided to the community.

INITIATIVES CONSIDERED

The 2000-2001 Grand Jury believes that efficient government is based in large part on the availability of error-free information and a dedicated staff. In preparing for the discussion of the following three initiatives, the Grand Jury researched how County management seeks to understand the professional intentions of County staff in order to support it with the technology that the staff needs to accomplish its missions.

Currently, there are three initiatives to organize County data to meet various needs:

  1. "Data Sharing." This initiative began and is continuing with an informal series of discussions and projects among Departments who share clientele. The aim is to identify and share client data that is collected in each Department. These discussions were inspired by the recent installation of Web-enabled1 "open"2 systems in many Departments. This technology facilitates real-time data exchange that aids in the design and delivery of important County services by line professionals.
  2. "Data Warehouse." This initiative is based on a contractual grant (awarded February 2001) to the Economic Forecast Project at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB) to aggregate selected County data into a single database maintained outside the County government. The County Departments, it is planned, would contribute historical data for administrators and scholars to analyze. The warehoused data is primarily designed to support policymakers’ economic forecasts and budget decisions to achieve maximum effectiveness for future County service delivery.
  3. "ReGIS." This is the Regional Government Information System that provides an intra-County, inter-County, supra-County, and inter-departmental database, available to all County Departments and employees, as well as to cities and special districts within the County. It is a mature data warehouse vehicle that is based on physical addresses (locations). It can be easily expanded to include other data sets.

The first two initiatives listed, "Data Sharing" and "Data Warehouse," may be currently competing for significant multiyear County funds that are sufficient to support only one.

"ReGIS," on the other hand, is a mature and functioning County project, established with a one-time grant in 1998. It now receives no continuing County funding. The Assessor’s Department is requesting budget enhancement for one additional staff member. Any monies committed to the ReGIS initiative could provide

EVALUATING THE INITIATIVES

In order to assess the relationship of new initiatives to County functions, and to determine which are most appropriate for development and funding, five issues need to be detailed:

  1. Confidentiality and Inter-Departmental Access to Data
  2. Grant Support
  3. Redundancy of Data Collected
  4. Timely Availability of Data
  5. Costs of Data Systems

Initiative Issue I: Confidentiality and Inter-Departmental Access to Data.

When "Some" Data Isn’t Enough

A Probation Officer detailed a program for an individual with a history of necrophilia (a love of dead human body parts) in addition to other offenses. In designing this program, the Probation Officer was unaware that this individual happened to be running a foster home—with a County license for both the individual and facility. There was neither information about this license in the data available to the officer nor was there information about the individual’s probation background in the information accessible to the Department of Social Services.

 

 

The Grand Jury heard County professionals ranging from supervisors to line staff speak of frustration regarding the gaps in the data available to do their jobs to their satisfaction. Although most employees are familiar with the types of data collected in their own Department, the same client often receives County services from more than one Department. Staff expressed the desire to access client data that they believed to be collected in other County Departments. With access, they felt they could avoid duplication of effort in some instances, and they could coordinate a more efficient provision of services in others. To do this, staff felt a need to find out which other Departments are involved with a client and what services are being provided. At times, employees expressed concerns regarding where to refer a question. It was clear that there is no inventory, or "definition," of the County data that is collected, sometimes inside a single Department. In other words, staff in a given Department may be unaware of what data may be held by its own and other Departments and may be unaware of how much potential there might be for data sharing.

Employees were also concerned that they lacked the tools to access data. They feel there should be a system that is easy to use and provides up-to-date, system-wide information about a client to aid them in designing a service for a client.

Initiative Issue II: Grant Support

In recent years, State and Federal agencies have been awarding "collaborative" grants to foster collaboration among governmental agencies and departments. Collaborative grants replaced "block grants," which were blocks of money given to local governments without restriction, to be used as determined by local policymakers. Collaborative grants are awarded with the intent of increasing coordination between government agencies, thereby reducing redundant (and sometimes competing) program development in government. These collaborative grants are awarded "categorically," specifying the exact population and interagency mechanisms that the grant monies will support. Collaborative grants require more reporting to State and Federal agencies by the County than did the former "block" grants. If County grant reports are erroneous, overlooked, or tardy, the County may be liable for reimbursement to the granting agency for the funds it has received, and future funding may be compromised.

These collaborative multiyear grants are awarded competitively among counties in the State. "Outcomes Measurement" of grant effectiveness is required by the granting agency. Successful outcomes, as measured by these Outcomes Measurements, are compared between counties and are used as bases for awarding grant extensions and new grant funds. These grant-mandated Outcomes Measurements change from year to year, based on the aggregate effectiveness of all the counties that are funded. Reporting requirements change periodically. Departments that participate in these grants must adjust their data collection and program populations annually according to the new grant standards.

Isn’t There An Easier Way?

Mental Health Department professionals account for their day in one-minute increments on a paper form. All these forms are then given to a clerical person to enter into a computer. The clerk assigns one of the 300 or so reimbursement codes to each activity. The records are then sent to the compliance division of Alcohol, Drug, & Mental Health Services (ADMHS), where each line is assigned to one or another grant program. If, in the transcription of information there happens to be an error (whether typographical, arithmetic, or programmatic), it is not caught until it is found that the reimbursement funds are at risk. The error is usually determined by the granting agency when it compares the ADMHS records with records from another Department that serves as a collaborative partner in the grant.

It may be months after the event before the error is referred to the compliance division, which then refers it to the division clerical staff, which then requests clarification from the service professional. By that time, the client and/or the service professional may no longer be available or cannot respond and the County may permanently lose the reimbursement.

In April 2001, the County Auditor discovered a shortfall of approximately $3,000,000 in the Department’s prior budget due to unreimbursable costs. This compares to a 2000-2001 budget of $37,000,000 of which the County contributes only $900,000.

Initiative Issue III: Redundancy of Data Collected

Some of the frustration expressed by the service professionals concerned the many forms that must be completed for a single service delivered in their own Department. The Departments keep records, the funding agency (often a non-County grant source) needs different records, and the County Administrator reviews additional criteria of each delivered Departmental service. It has become the practice to complete multiple forms, one for each purpose, for the same service. Completing each redundant form takes time away from the services the Department provides. Although the number of both line and clerical County staff has increased in recent years, many professionals report a disproportionately high increase in workload. Much of the workload increases are described as "clerical."

More clerical support is requested, yet it is not certain that there will be funding and space for them. Service workloads, particularly in the social program areas, are expected to increase as the County population increases by 30% to year 2030.

Initiative Issue IV: Timely Availability of Data

People Don’t Know What They Don’t Know

In attempting to define the needs for Proposition 36 (Alternative Drug Sentencing) funds of $900,000 that the County will receive on July 1, 2001, many service practitioners noted that female-specific substance abuse services were needed. When the Grand Jury requested information from all County law enforcement agencies regarding how many County women were arrested for substance abuse violations in the last five years, no information was available other than paper logs. Requests then had to be made to each agency to manually comb its logs to arrive at a total, and one agency could not comply because it had not collected and retained these specific booking statistics. The overall task took three weeks. While the agency totals did, in fact, support an increasing trend in the need for female-specific substance-abuse County services, the numbers were neither comprehensive nor easily accessible for decision-making.

Prior to 1987, the data processing system for Santa Barbara County was based on the County’s mainframe computer. Several Departments were connected to the mainframe through the County Network (the "Wide Area Network," or WAN) and their databases were written in the same programming language. In some cases, one Department shared the same database with another Department. The data in each individual Department’s data files was protected, but each Department could grant access to specific files to others. Information was stored in the same format, and so was available, with formal access arranged and respecting all confidentiality laws, by and for users of the County system.

In the late 1980s, Santa Barbara County’s mainframe system was awarded a "Best Practices" status for its efficiency and support of County functions. This system was unique among California counties in that all Departments could be included on the network. Although it was an expensive system to install, it enabled the County to support a high level of communication and collaboration between physically distant Departments, unlike most other counties.

As good as the mainframe system was, advances in personal computer (PC) and client-server technology brought lower cost and greater flexibility to meet growing business needs within reach of the Departments. At about the same time, the County "decentralized," allowing Departments to develop their own systems. In the early 1990s, stand-alone data processing systems were purchased for the Courts, the District Attorney, and the Public Defender. Other Departments continued to stay on the mainframe. All Departments continued to use the County Network, which continued to support inter-departmental communication of data and messaging.

Those Departments that chose to build stand-alone systems purchased equipment and software to re-create the specific Department tasks that had been done on the mainframe. They also added functionality to the stand-alone systems that would have been either costly or unavailable on the mainframe. However, these new systems were on different platforms and could not exchange data with one another, without the addition of expensive customized interfaces.

After these various stand-alone systems were installed, confidential data elements and files could be exchanged by telephone, fax, physical document exchange, or file transfer via e-mail. These methods of exchange required considerable employee time; clerks in the sending as well as the receiving Departments needed to manipulate the information for the transfer, as well as entering and re-entering the same data in the databases of each Department. There was no automatic updating of the information exchanged, so if update was required, another request needed to be made, requiring more employee time. Repeated input of information causes more errors to be introduced into the database.

Data requested from various Departments by the Grand Jury for certain investigations were seemingly irretrievable (even though it had been previously collected and published) or it was difficult to obtain in a timely fashion. The Grand Jury determined that this was due to neither the unwillingness of staff to share the data nor to confidentiality issues, but indicated problems in how the data is kept and in the mechanisms for retrieving it. "Data" only becomes "information" for decision making if it is available, accurate, and timely, so that it can be thoughtfully evaluated. The Grand Jury’s difficulties in obtaining appropriate data, if typical, gave evidence of unnecessary difficulties in County service and decision-making, and impediments to the timeliness of County service delivery.

Initiative Issue V: Costs of Data Systems

With any technology development there is a process that needs to be followed to make sense from a business perspective. The Grand Jury sought to monitor the process that the County followed to determine the need for each system initiative. Of the three initiatives, only the ReGIS initiative had published a project plan. The 2000-2001 funded (and 2001-2002 proposed funding) UCSB Data Warehouse initiative and (unfunded) Data Sharing initiatives now underway were determined by questioning Department IT staff and staff from the County Administrator’s Office about the needs and benefits of each initiative. The Grand Jury questioned

In addition, the Grand Jury assessed the County staff and IT professionals’ time commitments for each initiative. It was determined that the costs associated with the UCSB Data Warehouse project precluded the full-implementation of Data Sharing, and that the UCSB Data Warehouse is redundant to ReGIS. It was also determined that ReGIS and Data Sharing are complementary.

The accessibility of the data in each initiative was compared, as was the data’s accuracy and relevancy for decision making in each system.

Common elements of each initiative were identified by the Grand Jury that could be funded before a full budgetary commitment was made to one or another.

STUDYING THE ISSUES: PROCEDURE

To consider these issues, the Grand Jury interviewed professional staff, clerical staff, both administrative and information technology management in many Departments, and individuals in the County Administrator’s Office and in various departments at UCSB.

These Departments included Social Services and ADMHS, as well as the Probation and Sheriff’s Departments, which have overlapping service clientele. Also included were the Auditor-Controller, Clerk-Recorder-Assessor, Treasurer-Tax Collector, and Planning and Development Departments, which have overlapping property-related services.

The Grand Jury was impressed with the professional quality and commitment of County line staff. All individuals interviewed were eager to do their jobs well. County employees expressed concerns regarding the increased time commitments required to complete forms, increased workloads, and frustration with training. This motivated the Grand Jury to examine the "process" of service delivery and how the different data initiatives could impact Departments’ staffs and their ability to deliver service.

STUDYING THE ISSUES: BACKGROUND

Planning for the exchange of inter-departmental data, or "Data Sharing," underway for the past few years, is a successful by-product of the professional understanding of the increased technological capability of the data systems recently coming on-line. Although several Departments have begun the discussions and coordination necessary for Data Sharing to begin, an implementation involving all Departments that share clients is still unachieved. Progress with Data Sharing could be accelerated if the County would provide more operating funds and focused leadership in this area.

Data assessment for managerial purposes is perceived by the County Administrator to need another approach. Termed "Data Warehouse," this system of archival data collection and retrieval specifically for economic and strategic assessment of past delivered services, has recently begun with preliminary County capital commitments. The "Data Warehouse," will centralize much of the already-collected County data for the UCSB Economic Forecast Project. In February 2001, it was funded through a grant by the County Administrator’s Office. The UCSB Economic Forecast Project (EFP) is presented as an annual research seminar and book, which is sold to businesses as well as the County for a subscription fee of $20,000 per year. The County in the past few years is the largest data contributor to the EFP database.

This new initiative, aggregating more of the County service data for use by the UCSB Economic Forecast Project, is funded $30,000 in FY 2000-2001 and $72,000 in FY 2001-2002 through a grant. In exchange for these initial fees and County data, the Economic Forecast Project will provide "statistical data and analysis for presentation in the County’s budget documents and other publications as needed…(as well as) respond to ad hoc requests (usually in one week, but occasionally a day or two for simple requests)." A copy of Sponsor Information for the Economic Forecast Project is attached as Appendix B.

The initial cost to fill a warehouse is, typically, one-seventh of the ongoing annual maintenance costs. If fully implemented in 2002, this Data Warehouse project could cost the County over a million dollars per year if it is similar to other small-scale data warehousing projects.3 This annual amount continues for the life of the project. The longer the Data Warehouse is used, the more useful it becomes and, if the project is successful, this annual maintenance cost can continue indefinitely.

Although the County can afford the initial capital commitment to the UCSB Data Warehouse project now, the initial time commitment of the IT professionals as well as the ongoing maintenance expenses have yet to be assessed. There has been no needs/benefits analysis of this project. The scope of the data to be housed in the UCSB Warehouse has not yet been defined, nor has the full cost been determined to put it there. Should all County data be included? What specific reports does the County need now that it does not get? Have any alternative mechanisms for intended "warehouse" data been explored? Is it necessary to set up a Data Warehouse for the aggregation of County data or could needed data be obtained now through Web interfaces with the various Departmental databases in the County? If the focus was on data-sharing projects between Departments, would the County’s data needs be better met, and possibly at lower cost, than by the UCSB Warehouse project? The Grand Jury found that these questions were neither asked nor answered by the proponents of the UCSB Warehouse initiative.

The Grand Jury questioned how the data is currently collected in County Departments. If the UCSB Data Warehouse were not to be pursued, could the County’s current technology and expertise be utilized more effectively to serve the immediate Departmental decision-making needs, including mandatory and grant reporting, and the long-term assessments needed by County Administration? It was determined that Data Sharing, in combination with higher utilization of ReGIS, was optimal for the County.

FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS

ISSUE I: CONFIDENTIALITY

Confidentiality laws protect all confidential data that is kept by any governmental body. These laws apply to all client information collected by all Santa Barbara County Departments. Prior to any confidential information exchange between governmental bodies, a document (e.g., a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), data agreement, contract, etc.) is typically prepared and reviewed by a legal authority to assure compliance with confidentiality laws. In addition to these inter-departmental data sharing agreements, the County has many formal agreements with Federal and State agencies and County Departments for data storage and exchange.

Finding 1a: Any information that can be shared through the computer is subject to the same confidentiality laws as information that is exchanged by phone, e-mail, fax, or physical document exchange.

Finding 1b: Without some type of computerization, much clerical and professional time needs to be committed to facilitate necessary data exchange within the County.

Finding 1c: All confidentiality laws regarding client information are strictly interpreted and respected by all County Departments. Formal, written agreements to share data between Departments are reviewed by the County Counsel.

Recommendation 1a: The County should continue to interpret all client confidentiality laws strictly, regardless of the technology used to communicate it.

Recommendation 1b: All discussions regarding client Data Sharing should be formalized by written agreements. A standard MOU should be prepared for use by all Departments. All Departmental agreements to share data should be reviewed initially and annually by the County Counsel to assure compliance.

Recommendation 1c: Periodically, compliance with the terms of the MOUs or other agreements should be reviewed by the Auditor-Controller or the County’s outside auditor.

ISSUE II: GRANT SUPPORT

Departments are aggressive in pursuing State and Federal reimbursements and grants. (Grants are broadly defined here as sources of categorical funds—including reimbursements and entitlements—that are not provided by County taxes. Once grant funding begins, program expenditures are not optional and discretionary programs of the County.) Grants are used to support necessary programs for the benefit of County citizens. These categorical funds amount to approximately 75% of County operating revenues, as shown in Table 1. Each funding source requires collection and reporting of specific data, in a specific format, for each specific program. Each Department that uses grant funds must prepare reports to the non-County funding agencies, in addition to its reports to the County. Each report mandates a specific set of client information that may or may not be already collected for other reporting bodies. It is often easier to collect this client information for non-County reports on a separately designed form, rather than selecting data fields on the same form for input, which can risk omission of critical data elements.

Examples of some of these collaborative, inter-departmental grants in the County include

Table 1. County General Funds vs. County Operating Funds, 1996-2000

Total County Operating Funds


$ Millions

Discretionary Funds
(County Taxes)


$ Millions

Categorical Funds:
Grants, Entitlements,
and Non-discretionary

$ Millions

Categorical Funds as % of County Operating Funds
FY 96-97 994.6

96.5

898.1

90.3%

FY 97-98

402.0

103.5

298.5

74.3%

FY 98-99

448.2

110.5

337.7

74.3%

FY 99-00

485.1

119.0

366.1

75.5%

FY 00-01 (Est.)

534.7

130.1

404.6

75.7%

FY 01-02 (Rec.)

551.2

133.3

417.9

75.8%

Est. = Estimate Rec. = Recommended in the 2001-2002 budget

Finding 2a: Collaborative efforts between Departments generally provide for a continuum of client service, without redundant and costly program development, benefiting all citizens and taxpayers of the County.

Finding 2b: Santa Barbara County aggressively pursues non-County funded grant opportunities for collaborative, categorical programs.

Finding 2c: Grant reporting is mandatory and specific. Data collection needs to be error-free and timely. There is more scrutiny of grant reports, and more documentation is now required than in past years for subsequent or continued award of grant monies.

Finding 2d: Collaborative grants require more formal coordination between County Departments than do block grants, as they attempt a comprehensive solution to a particular social need.

Recommendation 2: Santa Barbara County should continue to pursue aggressively grant opportunities to increase County services, thereby leveraging taxpayers’ dollars.

ISSUE III: REDUNDANCY OF DATA COLLECTED

Grant-partnered Departments need and store overlapping program and personal information about the same clients. In some instances there is no way to avoid this, given applicable confidentiality laws. Additionally, the "Outcomes Measurement" mandated by the granting agencies is not always relevant for use in the Department. Each Department often collects a separate set of service information, in a different format, from the client for their own (database) purposes. For example, Departments often collect the same client data and service information (data elements like name, address, social security number) for internal (non-grant required) reports, as well as for grant-required reports. There is so much client information, in various forms and file locations, that data retrieval is cumbersome and time-consuming, and the data that is retrieved may not be accurate to adequately support decision-making.

This situation is not unique to this County. Other counties have the same issues with data collection and coordination. There are competitive grant funds available to counties for Data Sharing to produce model programs that can be documented and offered to others.

Finding 3a: The same information is often input about each client in each Department for grant reporting every time the client is seen.

Finding 3b: There is unnecessary duplication of information input into multiple Departments’ data storage, to try to assure that grant reporting is not compromised.

Finding 3c: If the reported information to the granting agency for client services or clients served is inconsistent between Departments, the granting agency may deny funds.

Finding 3d: Duplicated information makes data retrieval more cumbersome and time-consuming, and is frustrating to staff. This costs the taxpayers money.

Recommendation 3: Redundant information should not be collected and entered by County Departments, on a variety of forms, to fulfill the mandates of the funding agencies and the reporting and budget requirements of the County. This duplication wastes computer storage as well as professional and clerical time, makes data retrieval more cumbersome, and costs the County money.

Finding 4a: Departments collect identical client data and service information on multiple (paper or computer) forms. Often the same data is collected on three different forms (one for grant reporting, one for the Departmental collaboration, and one for the Department’s own internal use) for each contact with the client. Although this makes data input easier, it uses valuable computer and file storage space and makes data retrieval difficult.

Finding 4b: If the source person enters the data, instead of the information being passed to a clerk, it leads to increased accuracy and confidentiality. Some of the "line" staff may be doing more work that seems clerical because of this shift in duties, and see this as an extra burden. However, it is a function of the quality of data that the County must now demand.

Recommendation 4: Discrepancies between the client information used to provide services and for grant reimbursement should be avoided. Data entered into Departments’ databases should be manipulated by as few people as possible. Management should find ways to facilitate the data input tasks of line staff to assure the highest degree of accuracy and confidentiality of the stored information.

Finding 5a: Repetitive data input allows less professional time to be available to client services, lessening employee job satisfaction. Redundant and repetitive data collection also wastes the time of the client.

Finding 5b: Repetitive data input allows for more mistakes to be made, which requires more employees’ time to find and rectify the data discrepancies.

Finding 5c: Discrepancies in client information, which are uncorrected in different Departments’ databases, can lead to reporting errors in mandatory grant reports. Errors in grant reports may compromise categorical (grant) funding, which can be costly to the County.

Finding 5d: In addition to wasting service professionals’ time, more clerks are needed as a result of redundant and repetitive data collection. More employees in a Department use more valuable County "real estate."

Share the Wealth, Share the Data

Of the 122,000 real estate parcels in the County, 10,000 are transferred each year, requiring at least nine times that number of forms. In addition to property transfers, there are projected to be over 10,000 passports and 3,500 marriage licenses issued by the Clerk-Recorder-Assessor’s office in the FY2001-2002. An initiative is underway through the Recorder’s Office to make all County forms available to citizens through the Internet. Forms submission and payment of fees will soon be possible without having physically to visit the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, saving travel, parking, and time expenses for citizens. The data submitted will automatically go into each relevant Departments’ database without clerks’ time commitment to input data.

Recommendation 5a: Repetitive data input by clerical and especially line staff should be minimized.

Recommendation 5b: For Departments partnered in collaborative grants and serving the same client, data should be shared. Apportionment of costs for licensing software and automated access to specific fields of client data, respecting all confidentiality laws, should be established to reduce redundant data collection and data inconsistency that might threaten continued grant funds.

Recommendation 5c: The protocol (responsibility) for shared client information updates should be established by inter-departmental agreement, respecting all confidentiality laws.

Recommendation 5d: Collaborating Departments serving the same client should establish regular discussions to understand their partner’s data collections and needs, which may be different than that mandated by the grant.

Recommendation 5e: The Board of Supervisors should support these important Data Sharing efforts with commensurate, incremental increases in Departments’ operating budgets.

Finding 6: There are competitive grants available to encourage Data Sharing in county governments.

Recommendation 6a: The County should develop and implement a system of data organization and tracking for grants, and offer tools to Departments for better management of grant coordination.

Recommendation 6b: The County should pursue aggressively Data Sharing by competing for grant funds to support it.

ISSUE IV: TIMELINESS OF COUNTY DATA ACCESS

All Departments are connected, through the County’s wide Area Network (WAN), installed almost 20 years ago. They share the same e-mail system (excepting the Sheriff’s, Fire and Courts Departments), and can access the mainframe. A County-wide e-mail system (currently the "Group-Wise" service) is a vital link, not only to transfer data files, but also to disseminate governmental information quickly and to all County employees (e.g., electricity economizing, parking policies, personnel policy changes, etc.). A County Intranet, run over the County WAN, is also available to post policies and other information.

However good these developments are, Departments still do not have a comprehensive County-wide system of data sharing. Each Department now builds and maintains its own databases, in its chosen format. To share information among these databases, either new interfaces must be created or an expensive "shared database" needs to be developed. Before pursuing such an option, Departments need to study the benefits to be gained by their Department and Departments with whom they share clients to determine the economic value of the expenditure of County funds and manpower.

Where’s the Data?

It was reported to the Grand Jury that 90% of jail inmates were raised in foster homes. Neither the Social Services Department, nor the Sheriff’s Department was able to corroborate or disprove this report. This remarkable statistic was only disproved by a paper survey conducted by the Grand Jury at the County detention facilities, not by data that any County Department had collected.

Some Departments are now working together to develop greater data-sharing capability. An example of this collaboration is found in the District Attorney and Probation Department’s plans to develop an interface between their systems. These Departments estimate that they exchange several thousand phone calls each year to update attorney assignments, date of hearing, sentence recommendations, etc.—a repetitive process that uses much professional time. The District Attorney has developed, and the Probation Department is developing an open database that allows for inexpensive interfaces to be built for data access.

Data Sharing among Departments in the County needs to be improved for better service to citizens and taxpayers. Significant information that could be shared isn’t. This impediment has not been fully addressed by the County Administrators Office. Discussion, such as it exists, is confined to a technology discussion between Departments’ managements and in the technologically inexpert Information Systems Advisory Council (ISAC) forum.

County Information Technology (IT) professionals, the County Administrator, and Departmental staff know that they have more capability to improve communications.

These are some of the remedies proposed by these groups:

  1. County IT professionals, though the ISAC Technical Advisory Council (iTAC), propose using mostly-existing technology, and committing more money to inter-Departmental data sharing. This has begun with discussions of "what information we have" (data definition) and "what information we want and can share."
  2. The County Administrator would refocus the discussion on the potential of Data Warehouse technology that is available for purchase in conjunction with the Economic Forecast Project at UCSB. There has also been discussion of creating a new position of County Information Officer in combination with this Data Warehouse.
  3. In interviews with staff, the Grand Jury found that they want to be consulted when a technology installation is to be scheduled. Interruptions and impediments to their delivery of County services, they believe, should be minimized. Their concern should be recognized in developing any new technology project. They request that installations of any technology be done outside of the County’s business day, which would have no detrimental impact on service delivery. The amount of data available to staff for service design would not be reduced, even for a period of hours.

Finding 7a: There is a reasonably good infrastructure for reviewing and approving technology projects with the coordination of iTAC and ISAC (See Appendix D for the iTAC mission statement). However, iTAC members are all busy people with their own jobs and there has been little County monetary support for this effort. The County needs to provide more leadership in this arena, but not more control.

Finding 7b: The County Information Officer position in the context of a Data Sharing initiative, could be responsible to ensure that the County Administrator’s needs were met, namely, that (a) a repository is available for data that is to be stored, (b) a common format is adhered to in data that is to be shared, and (c) process studies and data sharing discussions are regularly undertaken in all Departments.

Finding 7c: Other potential responsibilities of a County Information Officer, if believed to be necessary under a Data Sharing initiative, could include

  1. implementing the decisions arrived at in the iTAC committee,
  2. providing forms, queries, and reports requested by the County Administrator, Departments, and the public (for public data),
  3. administering MOUs and acting as an arbiter in data sharing issues,
  4. coordinating or assisting in the coordination of all types of data for all types of purposes between Departments, and between the County and the public,
  5. representing the "data sharing" initiative whenever IT projects are proposed by Departments or by ITS (Information Technology Services, the division of General Services that supports the network),
  6. acting as the champion for data sharing efforts and assisting in determining that technologies that lend themselves to data sharing are embraced (such as Web-enabling), and
  7. acting as a resource to the Board of Supervisors, which currently has no technical resource available for data/information gathering for its critical decision making processes.

Recommendation 7a: A central person or group should be identified to coordinate the analysis of data sharing within the County. The County’s iTAC committee (ISAC Technology Advisory Counsel) could provide leadership.

Recommendation 7b: County leadership should should support the iTAC committee’s increased functions, with an appropriate budget to the members’ IT Departments, thus ensuring that these efforts do not compete with the professionals’ responsibilities in the Departments.

Finding 8a: Information has been exchanged between Departments for many years to provide appropriate and timely service to County citizens. Confidentiality laws regarding client information have long been respected, and continue to be so.

Finding 8b: The County-wide network and data access continue to be a valuable mechanism of timely communication needed by the County. However, communication between Departments and the quality and quantity of data exchanged needs to be improved.

Recommendation 8: The County-wide data system should continue to be supported. However, to assure valuable access to timely information among County Departments, it is no longer sufficient for real data sharing activities that should and could happen. The ITS should continue with the conversion to the higher capacity protocol of Ethernet, which would facilitate data sharing activities.

Finding 9: The public would be better served if users were not interrupted during the County’s service day by the installation of a technology project.

Recommendation 9: A "flex-schedule" for those IT and ITS professionals responsible for technology installation should be instituted.

Finding 10: A County-wide e-mail service medium is invaluable, disseminating County information quickly, efficiently, and economically.

Recommendation 10: "GroupWise," the County-wide e-mail service, should be changed to include those Departments not presently included, especially the Sheriff’s Department. Efforts should take place expeditiously to combine all County e-mail service into the most efficient system.

Finding 11: The Auditor-Controller’s FIN (Financial Information Network) System, the Assessor’s Property System, and the Planning and Development Department’s Acella Permit System currently provide inter-departmental access to these Departments’ systems.

Recommendation 11: The County should continue to look for opportunities, using the various technologies available today, to provide inter-departmental access to Departments’ systems or to bridge the actual systems together with programmed interfaces.

Finding 12a: The decision to pursue any type of technology, whether by data warehousing, Web-based Data Sharing, or any other process, must be based on sound business reasons that further the strategic plan of the County and of the Departments involved. Sound business planning for a joint technology project is achieved by

Finding 12b: The UCSB Data Warehouse project did not go through the appropriate steps necessary for sound business planning.

Recommendation 12: Joint technology projects of the County should be carefully planned and formalized, in ISAC and iTAC, to save staff and managerial time in data retrieval for years to come.

Finding 13a: Relevant information to be included in any joint technology projects is identified only by discussion between Departments. This is a necessary, up-front cost that must be considered and supported to assure relevant, accurate, and timely data for decision making.

Finding 13b: Data users and data contributors to a joint technology project do not perceive identical benefits from the sharing arrangement. This can, at times, create lengthy discussions between Departments that are data users and those Departments that are data contributors. These discussions are inevitable and should be accommodated by the budgets. The lines between these two groups, however, blurs if the sharing arrangement is carefully planned—i.e., data users will become contributors and vice-versa.

Recommendation 13: Data sharing among Departments, and the discussions that are necessary to identify relevant data and information, should be actively encouraged and supported by the Board of Supervisors. This would assure that, regardless of the technology, appropriate and timely data is delivered to County decision makers in the years to come.

ISSUE V: COSTS OF DATA SYSTEMS

The goal is to make the process of retrieving data seamless, timely, and comprehensive to those who need it. Ideally, County service professionals want the mechanism to provide the data required for their service design to be invisible. This requires careful planning and coordination by Department and IT management. Checking several different computer systems, all with different access protocols for the data, uses much staff time and is not comprehensive. Staff members say that it would be valuable to type in a few data fields (e.g., name, address, driver’s license number, aliases, or other identifying information) and be able to view all data kept in the County systems on a client. ("All data" implies all that which is allowable to be viewed, respecting all confidentiality laws.) Whether the information is delivered by Internet, Intranet, shared database, or from a Department file is, and should be, of little concern to the service professionals of the County. Taxpayers and citizens request that the most time-efficient/cost-effective solution needs to be used.

How much would it cost to create this capability?

Rather than "buying" an actual Data Warehouse through UCSB, the current capabilities of the various Department computer systems to share data allows the possibility of setting up a "virtual data warehouse." The capabilities of the Departments data systems to share have markedly increased even in the past two years, due to the perspicacity of the County IT professionals. In a virtual data warehouse data is accessed when needed from the databases in each agency, rather than each agency "downloading" their data into a separate database and then maintaining it. Another advantage of this approach is that Departments can use the same infrastructure to exchange data with each other in support of their operations.

" The information revolution is first and foremost a social and organizational revolution—one that without question is supported and driven by the new possibilities of technology. But the revolution at its core isn’t about technology. It’s about how human beings learn, connect, organize and manage themselves in new ways. These changes mean that many challenges associated with technological innovation are really management challenges."

Government Technology (November 2000)

 

Seeing the Future

A few years ago, background research for a Drug Court (collaborative) grant application revealed that $300,000 of the $500,000 grant would be needed for "middleware" to interface the participating Departments’ data systems. The grant was not pursued, as this seemed a poor use of funds for the benefit received. Web-enabled technology has since been installed in the District Attorney’s office and the Courts, and is being developed at the Probation Department, which allow these agencies to accomplish the same goal using internal resources with much less technology expense, and so provide more services for clients.

No project plan has been published for the Data Warehouse initiative with UCSB. However, the costs for this Data Warehouse, if typical of other small-scale data warehousing projects, will total $1,000,000 to $2,000,000 per year. The costs for the proposed position of County Information Officer (CIO), to manage the Data Warehouse project in the County, would range from approximately $150,000 to $200,000 per year—or more than the County Administrator.

Additionally, because the Data Warehouse is designed to archive data principally for economic purposes, it would meet neither the Departments’ operational needs relating to non-duplication of services, nor for timely information for service delivery. There would also be ongoing capital sums needed by Departments to meet their service and grant reporting responsibilities in addition to the capital funds needed for the Data Warehouse. These Departmental requests for funds may be unrequited if the Data Warehouse has as large a scope as it is technologically designed to have.

The Economic Forecast project is not a project of the County, it is a project of UCSB, but neither UCSB nor anyone outside of County government understands how the Departments need to view or access their data.

Practical concerns with maintaining the data on which the County is dependent outside the County system, and relinquishing management of that data to an outside agency have not been addressed by the data warehousing steps taken thus far.

Some of the data that the County collects is sold to recoup costs. The County data now given to UCSB is used to compile information for the UCSB Economic Forecast, which is sold to businesses and individuals. By giving more data to UCSB, the County may compete against itself. There has not been an analysis done of this cost.

Win, Win

The ReGIS system, developed by the Clerk-Recorder-Assessor, has the most accurate spatial data in the County. This is available to all occasional users within and outside the County, currently as a free service on the Internet (www.sb-democracy.com), to retrieve

  • grantor/grantees for all conveyances4,
  • land use information,
  • property footprints, and
  • the buffering properties of any parcel in the County.

It will soon have additional data sets such as topography, zoning, building footprints, and aerial photographs, among others.

Title companies, however, benefit more from this data than the occasional user. They are willing to pay a small fee to access this data from their offices, avoiding the expenses of messengers, parking, and time to their organizations.

The larger the aggregation of data in a warehouse, the more useful it becomes. Having two data warehouses (in this case, ReGIS and the UCSB Data Warehouse) would spread data resources over a bigger base and render each less effective. This would create redundancy, errors in data, and create a need for more staff time for service design. Should a Data Warehouse be necessary for the County Administrator or any other Department in the County, the ReGIS system, already in place in the County Assessor’s Office, could be utilized. Of the 210 gigabytes (measures of) capacity, only 20 are now being used. Information in the ReGIS database is already properly formatted for Department users, and any additional designated data contributions could be given a format template.

Unless it is a well-focused initiative, the demands made by a Data Warehouse for Departments’ time to "fill" the UCSB Data Warehouse may, in fact, create a current hardship for Departments with their present staffing. This could result in a reduction of client services as IT resources are spent to contribute data to a warehouse. It could create more responsibility for the Information Technology staff in each Department, to the detriment of other data collection and reporting responsibilities.

The data, once transferred into this warehouse, becomes static. This is not a particularly grave problem with historical information, but it would not support the operational needs of Departments relating to coordination and non-duplication of services. If the commitment to the UCSB Data Warehouse were to go forward at this time, archival data for assessment and evaluation would take priority over the data needed to design needed client services in the County.

Setting up a Data Warehouse through UCSB might serve the County Administrator's need for the Economic Scan formulation, and the assessment and evaluation of County services over time. However, it would improve neither the immediacy and accessibility, nor the quality of data available to the service professional. It is urgent that the County, in making the next capital commitment to data gathering, demonstrates managerial responsiveness to the demands for accurate data by line and service professionals who need it to design appropriate client services.

Finding 14a: The proposed UCSB Data Warehouse project is redundant to the service that could be provided by ReGIS.

Finding 14b: The ReGIS initiative and the Data Sharing initiative are complementary.

Finding 14c: All County data would need to be reformatted for inclusion in the Data Warehouse, because the format of the County data now collected is significantly different than the needs of the UCSB Data Warehouse project. County data at the UCSB Warehouse will be even less accessible to County service professionals than it is now.

Finding 14d: Use of the County-owned ReGIS database for Departmental economic and archival data needs does not have many of the limitations associated with the UCSB Data Warehouse.

Recommendation 14: For archival data needed by the County Administrator and others, the use of the ReGIS database should be considered. The County staff supporting ReGIS should be vested with the authority to pursue data links from other Departments to ensure that the County Administrator has available all of the information, once it is defined, that is promised by the Data Warehouse project.

Finding 15a: The capabilities of the ReGIS system and its application to County business are considerable.

Finding 15b: The technical prowess of the County professionals who created ReGIS, and their familiarity with County business are considerable.

Recommendation 15: The County should support ReGIS through appropriate budget allocations, and not lose the investment that has been made, both in terms of hardware and the professionals who developed it.

DATA SHARING AND THE DISCUSSIONS NEEDED TO SUPPORT IT

Monitoring the Application of EPR Standards

Inconsistent management practices make the County vulnerable to costly litigation. The Grand Jury determined to check the mechanism used by Departments management to monitor the application of Employee Performance Reviews (EPRs) done by the program managers, since employee performance measurement is the single largest responsibility of program managers.

It was believed that a single EPR would be cross-posted to the Personnel file of the employee and the Departmental file of the manager making the assessment. This would give Departments administration a means to assess managers, as a tool for reviewing their performance. The Grand Jury requested a review of two Departments’ anonymous EPRs, in order to evaluate the oversight given for consistent EPR standards application.

The Grand Jury found, however, that most EPRs are not done on computer. Additionally, the EPR data is not organized in a paper file in a way that makes EPR standards application an easy thing for management to evaluate. Seemingly, should a Department administrator care to review this important job skill of its program managers, the only choice is to pull paper files from the Personnel Department’s cabinets, for each line employee and for each year that a program manager signed the performance review. This means that, should a complaint arise, there is no mechanism to check a program manager’s adherence to, or deviation from, EPR standards. Shouldn’t there be such a mechanism for the benefit of County taxpayers and staff morale?

This problem is not a technology question. If data is not collected, how can it become information for good policymaking?

Data sharing, and the data definition discussions needed to support it among Departments are valuable. By sharing how Departments collect and store data, Departments learn about other aspects of County business, which may suggest changes that might be made in their own organization to further the effectiveness of County services.

The costs to sponsor the Data Sharing discussions in the County could easily cost the same as the money proposed for a Data Warehouse project, depending on how encouraging the Board of Supervisors and taxpayers of the County want this to be. However, once an initiative is in place, grant money to support it is likely to be available.

If the Data Sharing initiative is adopted by the County Administrator and the Board of Supervisors, all further Departmental technology purchases will be evaluated on how they further the goals of timely and accurate data for intra-departmental and inter-departmental permitted users of the data. Budget approvals will support management-sponsored discussions of what data needs to be available intra-departmentally and inter-departmentally, and how it is accessed.

There has been no plan articulated to Departments’ IT professionals by ITS or the County Administrator for the County mainframe system. As it stands now, the mainframe is the only one of all the Departments’ databases with which it is not easy to interface. If there is no current plan to convert to a non-mainframe system, then technologies are available that can enable the mainframe to share data with PC-based systems, and so allow valuable data to be accessed easily—and soon.

IT managers have a view of the data that other managers don’t have. They should be involved at the beginning of any data sharing discussions. This will allow sufficient

lead time to organize each Department’s technology and, most importantly, to organize the data as it is collected.

Finding 16a: The costs associated with the UCSB Data Warehouse project, if pursued, would preclude the full implementation of Data Sharing in the County. Data Sharing and data warehousing provide different types of access to data and differences in the quality of the data.

Finding 16b: Data Sharing and the ReGIS initiative are complementary in their access to and quality of data.

Recommendation 16: Data Sharing should be pursued in combination with the ReGIS initiative to provide the highest quality data in a timely and accessible way to the County.

Finding 17a: When County operating resources are limited, the most valuable initiatives, with established benefits, are funded first. If funds remain, other projects, with benefits that can be anticipated, are then funded.

Finding 17b: The "means" of data sharing need to be considered in the data sharing discussions, because of the costs. The County, as all public and private institutions, prioritizes needs and allocates resources accordingly, since resources are, by definition, scarce.

Recommendation 17a: The monies that are being considered for a Data Warehouse project allocation in the County should be dedicated to Departmental initiatives to share data, in combination with increased use of the ReGIS initiative.

Recommendation 17b: The County should have a policy of fostering "open" systems (see footnote 2 on page 3) that make data sharing inexpensive and easy.

Recommendation 17c: IT managers should be involved at the early stages of virtually all administrative policy and operating discussions.

Recommendation 17d: To encourage more data sharing, the County should set aside funding, apart from current operating budgets, for worthy data sharing projects for which the Departments could compete. This would encourage more data sharing and accelerate the process of improving County data communication.

TRAINING

Technical Training

Technology is constantly changing, and IT professionals have to keep up with it. The County needs either to train existing staff or hire on the open market. Attracting technologically skilled individuals to County employment is more about continued skill development than it is about money. Recent college graduates now evaluate the opportunities from potential employers to improve their technology skills. If the County can offer ever-increasing challenges to data professionals that improve and augment their professional skills, the number of qualified individuals applying to the County will increase.

Net Worth?

This year’s budget allocates $330,000 for a consultant to General Services to redesign all Departments’ Web sites in order to achieve a consistent look. An earlier attempt to come up with Web-site standards and direction was the County Internet Taskforce (C/IT). It was a purely voluntary group, and is still informally in place, although no meetings have been held for about a year. This attempt was helpful to those who took part in the meetings, in that they were able to learn from each other. However, as an unfunded and unofficial group, it was not able to make a big impact on the County direction as a whole.

A funded attempt to accomplish the same ends may be more successful: sometimes something that is "free" isn’t perceived to have as much value. However, by hiring a consultant, the knowledge gained in developing the technology is lost to the County.

There are many employment opportunities for individuals knowledgeable in the latest computer technology, and many employers pay far more than the County. Vendors and other users who know the value of the product to the customer will "buy" proficient employees who know Web-based technology. Web-enabled products—whether self-developed (as is being developed in the Auditor-Controller’s Department) or purchased (as in the Probation Department)—are the most effective tools currently.

The key to keeping good staff is to assure that they are trained well, that their professional skills continue to be upgraded, and that they work in a professional, technical environment. The primary costs of adopting any new technology initiative is the County’s continuing commitment to its IT employees. The case of one department’s IT manager is a good example. Once that department’s Web-enabled project is done, this manager may command far more in the job market than the County can pay. The manager may stay, but it would be for reasons other than the pay—specifically, the County’s commitment to IT staff’s skill improvement, and resultant job satisfaction. Administrative responsiveness and commitment to these issues are important factors in attracting and retaining good employees.

User Training

A key to helping Departments better utilize their data and the data of other Departments, and turn it into usable information, is user training. The more sophisticated users can be trained to access the data in ways that help them, by using query tools, report writers, spreadsheets, and simple databases. In this way they can answer their own questions and the questions of managers without involving an outside programmer, who doesn’t necessarily understand their question. This is another advantage of data sharing and transfer, and the use of "open" databases (see footnote 2 on page 3). In any case, all users should undergo training before access is allowed to another Department’s databases.

Telecommuting may be a partial solution to the County’s space needs and commuting problems, and these issues are requiring serious County Administration discussion. User training in computer skills is a necessary component of any discussion that seriously considers telecommuting.

Training for all County employees is available in Word, Access, Excel, and Internet Explorer through the Employees University (EU) at $50/class, paid by the Departments. While more than one-third of the County’s employees have taken at least one EU class since it began in 1998, more would benefit from the professional classes and the potential collaboration with the staff from other Departments that happens as a result of the EU contact. For very specialized topics, there is training available at UCSB and the community colleges. A closer alliance of EU with Santa Barbara City College (SBCC) would provide better access to all types of technology-related courses, since it has a full curriculum.

Another way to provide classroom training for advanced technical topics is to contract for special courses. On a per-need basis, there are many vendors that will do on-site courses at discounts, thus bringing down the cost per Department significantly for such courses. Departments could be encouraged to collaborate on taking courses from an outside vendor. EU could organize these inter-departmental collaborations.

Finding 18a: Management responsiveness is an important factor in retaining good staff. Included in managerial responsiveness is user training of County employees, which is relatively inexpensive and available.

Finding 18b: Despite the published information, not all Department managers are cognizant of the advantages of both the technical and organizational training available through the Employees University. Some do not actively encourage their staffs to avail themselves of these pertinent opportunities.

Finding 18c: For security of the data sharing, and the efficiency of all users, training should occur prior to any inter-departmental access of data.

Recommendation 18a: Considering the costs of hiring individuals in the open market, user training in technology tools should always be considered and budgeted for as part of the system development/acquisition cycle. The County should pay for this important technical training.

Recommendation 18b: A dedicated 1% of each IT Department’s budget (for an annual County cost of approximately $120,000) should be allocated to IT managers to provide training and user support for current IT professionals. An additional 1% should be allocated to provide training and support for employees of the Departments. This should be an incremental budget item and should not be at the expense of other Departmental services or funds.

Recommendation 18c: The Employees University should pursue an alliance with SBCC to offer a broader range of specialized technical courses. The EU should organize and act as fiscal agent for inter-departmental technical courses provided by outside vendors at the request of the Departments involved.

A PROBATION DEPARTMENT CASE STUDY

The initiatives underway in the Probation Department put much of their internal data storage "onto" a Web-enabled data storage system for the benefit of all their Probation Department users, as part of the "Impact" system. Making the shift from largely manual to largely automated processes, Department personnel will have the benefit of more comprehensive data to design the services that the Probation Department provides. The software being used in this effort allows for the entry (input) of resource costs so the relative costs to the County of various versions of a process can be determined. Because this initiative is one of the first projects using this technology, the costs to the County are considerably less that any subsequent project by this vendor. (It should be noted that other Departments have made similar efforts and assisted the Probation Department in developing its approach, but the Probation Department is a timely example that can be utilized in further operational studies.)

Most valuable in this transition from manual to automated process is the managerial decision process used by the Department. This Department budgeted for, and is currently conducting, workload surveys to determine how best to utilize the capabilities of the new case management system. One of the initial steps was a process study to determine how much time is actually spent by each clerk to input (type) repetitive client information. Another study will help establish a baseline to allow comparison of "as is" and "to be" versions of data entry processes for both clerical and line staff. Probation Department Systems Analysts circulated surveys among the clerical and line staff, which asked them to identify the following data items:

  1. data, currently uncollected in any form, that is needed to better serve clients,
  2. data that is regularly retrieved, and the source Department(s), and
  3. data that is regularly requested, and requesting Department(s).

The Probation Systems Analysts used the results from the Probation staff surveys to organize discussions with other Departments named in the surveys, involving both clerical, line, and IT staff. These discussions are formalized with MOUs, and all data that is suggested for sharing is reviewed by County Counsel to assure that all confidentiality laws are respected. These data sharing discussions have yielded immediate efficiencies in the data collected and stored in the various Departments, in addition to the efficiencies accruing to the Probation Department.

Finding 19a: Department process studies in the Probation Department are an important operational advancement in County data management. Process studies give the baseline (for costs associated with employee time) to compare with whatever incremental cost is involved in the Department becoming fully "data-linked."

Finding 19b: Departments that do not employ Systems Analysts, but hire outside vendors to implement isolated systems, or purchase off-the-shelf solutions without proper review, may lose the opportunity to make this valuable comparison of incremental costs of any new technology.

Finding 19c: At times, there can be problems with the reluctance of some Departments to share data, even though it is legal for them to do so. Some may cite spurious confidentiality issues if they feel that their data may reflect poorly on their Department.

Recommendation 19a: All Departments should undertake a process study, based on the Probation model, as part of the planning process prior to any implementation of technology projects. This data-sharing process should be conducted with clerical and line-staff and should include data survey, IT management conferences, and formalized agreements.

Recommendation 19b: All Departments should request their clerical staffs periodically to make lists of the information that is routinely requested of and by other Departments.

Recommendation 19c: All Departments should meet as necessary to discuss what information is needed from one another.

Recommendation 19d: Data Processing Managers should meet periodically, as information accrues from other Departments, to evaluate opportunities for operational efficiency.

Recommendation 19e: Technological assessments of specific data sharing should be used to create formalized agreements (MOU, contracts, etc.) between Departments. Legal review of the agreements should be obtained.

Recommendation 19f: There should be a mediation process to resolve data sharing disputes between Departments when a Department refuses to share allowable data. Perhaps the County Administrator’s office, the CIO (should one be hired), or the County Counsel could act as broker to resolve such disputes.

 

WEB-ENABLED DATA STORAGE AND TRANSFER

The Departments’ capability to share and deliver data for the "virtual data warehouse" is possible because of the connectivity afforded by a number of technologies including, for example, Web-enabled or client-server data storage systems using "open systems" standards. Web-enablement extends the Departmental connectivity outside of the existing County Wide Area Network (WAN).

There are good reasons for favoring a Web-enabled, browser-based system as an extension of the WAN:

Other reasons can be the ability to share the data with a wider user group, such as the public in general, or specific agencies, both public and private, that need access.

Web access to databases is independent of data processing operating platforms. It also lends itself to efficient data transfer, and avoids the liabilities of physical transportation of data. This type of data access allows data to be securely stored, if handled properly. It can be retrieved inexpensively by users and data contributors no matter which type of Internet-accessible machine they use (e.g., Macintosh, PC, larger CPU, palm-held devices, etc.).

The biggest perceived problem with Web-based systems is security. Confidentially of data is protected in Web-accessed data storage sites by "encryption," which must be carefully designed and programmed to be fully secure. There are tried and proven ways to achieve confidentiality, including 128-bit encryption, which is used by the U.S. Department of Defense. Some other methods of assuring confidentiality include inserting an additional server between the Internet and the databases. An analysis needs to be made to determine the security of information versus the cost.

Finding 20: Web-enabled data access and storage systems can be made to be secure and accessible to all Web-enabled data processing platforms.

Recommendation 20: The County should consider Web-enabled data storage and transfer as a necessary adjunct to the WAN. The Web-based and browser-based systems are the wave of the future (meaning the next three to five years).

Finding 21a: Initiatives by the Probation Department to store data in a Web-enabled database and browser-based user interface are to be applauded, because they deliver timely and accurate data for decision-making while being very available to access by others. This serves the Departments, the taxpayers, and the citizens of the County well.

Finding 21b: The Probation Department is in a good position to provide technical assistance to other Departments considering its important technological and operational advancements.

Finding 21c: Social Services, in designing its replacement data processing system, is designing it with the potential for client-server data access.

Finding 21d: Discussions are underway between the Social Services and Probation Departments to coordinate data and transaction responsibilities that will benefit the provision of services to mutual clients.

Recommendation 21: Established and emerging expertise in the County in Web-enabled data storage and transfer should be utilized to expand the full potential of operational and technical issues associated with Data Sharing. This would be cost-effective, given the expense of consultants and the benefits of Data Sharing for County service delivery.

CONCLUSION

The technology of data storage and retrieval has continued to develop rapidly in the past several years. County Departments have taken major steps to build an infrastructure based on these advances. Instead of building customized and costly "shared databases" (including the Data Warehouse modification), data stored on Departmental databases can now be accessed by using technology developed for the Web.

The proposals in place to pursue a Data Warehouse project with the Economic Forecast Project at UCSB appear to need more study. The concept of having data from each Department available for analysis by the EFP and County Administration may be a valid need for the County to assist in measuring the effectiveness of managerial decisions already made and to plan for the future. Of concern, however, is that the business practices to be supported by this project have not been specified in detail, and it appears that a technology solution is already being favored before adequate study has been completed. It is noted once again that a Data Warehouse is not designed to provide information for real-time service delivery and design.

However, committing the same funds to develop Web-enabled, browser-based systems may meet both the needs of the Departments relating to data sharing, and the needs of UCSB and County Administration in their Data Warehouse concept. Such systems may make possible a virtual data warehouse that is easy to implement and to maintain. Also to be considered in lieu of establishing the Data Warehouse is the potential of using ReGIS to meet these needs. With these two approaches together, it appears the County can achieve its needs at a lower cost than might be estimated for the UCSB Data Warehouse project.

Data Sharing initiatives in the Clerk-Recorder-Assessor, Auditor-Controller, Probation, Social Service, Sheriff’s, District Attorney, Courts, and Public Health Departments are encouraging to the Grand Jury, as they should be to the County Administrator and Board of Supervisors, to improve the efficiency and quality of County services. County-wide discussions to coordinate data sharing are also beginning to occur between many Departments and through the iTAC committee.

Finding 22: The County already has, and is developing additional, Web-enabled databases in many of its Departments. These Web-enabled databases are significant resources that will allow easy access to this valuable archival information, for timely design of County services. The Board of Supervisors can spur more and quicker improvement of County service with appropriate encouragement.

Recommendation 22a: The County should prioritize more and better utilization of the County-wide Data Processing network, as well as creating Web-enabled databases (Data Sharing) between Departments involved in collaborative grants, in order to improve County service. This will also assure that grant funds, based on service reports to granting agencies, will continue to support County needs.

Recommendation 22b: All IT projects of the County should go through needs/cost assessment processes and publish project plans so that priorities are well defined and understood, and so that County planning is comprehensive.

Recommendation 22c: The Board of Supervisors and the County Administrator should direct County Departments to study Data Sharing technology to the optimal feasible extent and to respond before the beginning of the next budget cycle, by January 2002.

 

AFFECTED AGENCIES

KEY AGENCY
   
A           County Administrator
B           Board of Supervisors
C           County Counsel
D           Alcohol, Drug & Mental Health Services
E           Auditor-Controller
F           County Clerk-Recorder-Assessor
G           District Attorney
H           County Fire District
I           General Services
J           Personnel
K           Planning and Development
L           Probation
M           Public Defender
N           Public Health
O           Public Works
P           Social Services
Q           Sheriff’s Department
R           Treasurer-Tax Collector

 

Note

This presentation of the list of the Affected Agencies and the associated Findings and Recommendations is a departure from previous practice. The layout is easy to follow but to make it even easier, we suggest that after you locate your agency’s Key in the matrix, you might wish to use a highlighter to mark that column.

 

               A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R
                                       
F-1a   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-1b   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-1c   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-1a   X X X                              
R-1b   X X X                              
R-1c   X X     X                          
                                       
F-2a   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-2b   X X                                
F-2c   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-2d   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-2   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
                                       
F-3a   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-3b   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-3c   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-3d   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-3   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
                                       
F-4a   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-4b   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-4   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
                                       
F-5a   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-5b   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-5c   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-5d   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
 

                                   
R-5a   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-5b   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-5c   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-5d   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-5e   X X                                

A County Administrator F Clerk-Recorder-Assessor K Plan. and Develop. P Social Services
B Board of Supervisors G District Attorney L Probation Q Sheriff’s Department
C County Counsel H Fire Departments M Public Defender R Treas.-Tax Collector
D ADMHS I General Services N Public Health    
E Auditor-Controller J Personnel O Public Works    

 

                 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R
                                       
F-6   X X                                
R-6a   X X     X                          
R-6b   X X     X                          
                                       
F-7a   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-7b   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-7c   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-7a   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-7b   X X                                
                                       
F-8a   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-8b   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-8   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
                                       
F-9   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-9   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
                                       
F-10   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-10   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
                                       
F-11   X X     X X         X              
R-11   X X                                
                                       
F-12   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-12   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
                                       
F-13a   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-13b   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-13   X X                                
                                       

A County Administrator F Clerk-Recorder-Assessor K Plan. and Develop. P Social Services
B Board of Supervisors G District Attorney L Probation Q Sheriff’s Department
C County Counsel H Fire Departments M Public Defender R Treas.-Tax Collector
D ADMHS I General Services N Public Health    
E Auditor-Controller J Personnel O Public Works    

 

                 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R
                                       
F-14a   X X       X     X                  
F-14b   X X       X                        
F-14c   X X     X X                        
F-14d   X X       X     X                  
R-14   X X       X                        
                                       
F-15a   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-15b   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-15   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
                                       
F-16a   X X     X                          
F-16b   X     X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-16   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
                                       
F-17a   X X                                
F-17b   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-17a   X X                                
R-17b   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-17c   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-17d   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
                                       
F-18a   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-18b   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-18c   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-18a   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-18b   X X                                
R-18c   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
                                       

A County Administrator F Clerk-Recorder-Assessor K Plan. and Develop. P Social Services
B Board of Supervisors G District Attorney L Probation Q Sheriff’s Department
C County Counsel H Fire Departments M Public Defender R Treas.-Tax Collector
D ADMHS I General Services N Public Health    
E Auditor-Controller J Personnel O Public Works    

 

                 A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R
                                       
F-19a   X X                   X            
F-19b   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
F-19c   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-19a   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-19b   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-19c   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-19d   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-19e   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-19f   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
                                       
F-20   X X                   X            
R-20   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
                                       
F-21a   X X                   X            
F-21b   X X                   X            
F-21c   X                             X    
F-21d   X                     X       X    
R-21   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
                                       
F-22   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-22a   X X   X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-22b   X     X X X X X X X X X X X X X X X
R-22c   X X                                
                                       

A County Administrator F Clerk-Recorder-Assessor K Plan. and Develop. P Social Services
B Board of Supervisors G District Attorney L Probation Q Sheriff’s Department
C County Counsel H Fire Departments M Public Defender R Treas.-Tax Collector
D ADMHS I General Services N Public Health    
E Auditor-Controller J Personnel O Public Works    

 

APPENDIX A

COMPARISONS OF TECHNOLOGIES

LOW TECH TO HIGH TECH

DATA STORAGE DATA TRANSFER
Physical Data Transfer
Paper documents in physical file cabinets. Information exchanged by telephone, fax, physical delivery
Data in Dept. A's computer in a database file.
Data in Dept. B's computer in a database file.
Employee in Dept. A prints out information
from Database A and physically exchanges it with employee in Dept. B. Employee in Dept. B inputs relevant information from document into Database B.
Electronic File Transfer
Same as above. Employee in Dept. A responds to a request by employee in Dept. B to find a computer data file in Dept. A's database to transfer, computer to computer, over the County WAN or via the Internet.
Shared Database
Employees in both departments input specific, relevant fields of data from their own databases into Database X. Responsibility for updating Database X is formalized and
assigned for optimal data quality.
Employees in both departments can access their own database as well as permitted fields in Database X.
Data Warehouse
Data is stored as above, only in an off-site, non-County-Governmental structure, in this case, UCSB Much like the Shared Database listed above, except that, instead of data transfer into Database X data is transferred into the Warehouse by disk, e-mail attachment, or Internet. All interested users retrieve data permitted to them. Data is only updated at the Warehouse by further transfers of data from each Department. Unlike Shared Database (above), maintenance of warehoused data is not done by the Departments but by a third party.
Data Interface
Data resides in each Department's database. One Department can access agreed-upon data in another Department's database. Each Department updates its own data. If a Department has appropriate software and hardware, access can be given to other entities over the Internet for a very modest development cost. Each Department is connected to the County WAN and/or the Internet.

 

APPENDIX B

DATA DEVELOPMENT SPONSOR FOR THE UCSB ECONOMIC FORECAST PROJECT (EFP)

Provided by County of Santa Barbara, Office of the County Administrator (CAO)

Sponsor Level Summary:

General: The County is providing $72,000 annually for sponsor support of the UCSB Economic Forecast Project to create data sources and facilitate the establishment of a County Information Warehouse, and toward continuation of EFP’s Santa Barbara County and North County Economic Outlook Projects. The data will be made available to the County for use in the County’s economic development program, strategic planning process, grant applications, budget development, and other programs and projects. As a benefit of the sponsorship, EFP will provide expertise and assistance with analyzing and presenting statistical information pertaining to the major trends and conditions relevant to County programs and policy. The EFP staff will provide expertise in accessing, compiling. Analyzing and presenting statistical information, and will work closely with County staff to assess the County’s information needs and advise on how to best meet those needs.

Sponsorship Benefits:

Under the direction of the CAO, the EFP will coordinate the development and production of the Annual Introduction to the Strategic Scan, and assist with development of Scan presentations by four departmental teams.

The EFP will provide statistical data and analysis for presentation in the County’s budget documents and other publications as needed.

The EFP will respond to ad hoc requests (usually one week, but occasionally a day or two for simple requests)

The EFP will design and develop a central Santa Barbara County business database accessible via the Internet.

The EFP will develop and maintain a data warehouse accessible via the Internet by County departments and the public, including and up-to-date index of available data series.

Level of Sponsorship: $30,000 for FY 2000-01. $72,000 recommended for FY 2001-02, and subject to approval by the County Board of Supervisors as part total budget approval.

Additional Costs:

Should the County make requests that require acquisition of additional source data, the County will provide additional funding for those data purchases.

Should the County request assistance in the production of publications, the County will assume responsibility for all costs associated with the layout and printing of publications.

 

APPENDIX C

ISAC TECHNICAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE CHARTER

Purpose: The County of Santa Barbara ISAC Technical Advisory Committee (iTAC) is a sub-committee of the Information Systems Advisory Committee (ISAC) and reports to and provides information to ISAC and its chair. Its primary purpose is to assist Departments and the County in the successful implementation and operation of information system technologies.

Goals: Under direction of the ISAC and its chair, and in alignment with the ISAC Charter, iTAC will strive to:

  1. Provide an Information Technology "think tank" environment for County Departments.
  2. Promote success for information systems projects.
  3. Participate in planning for the future of IT technologies within the County.
  4. Expose, discuss and encourage opportunities for data- and technologies-sharing between County systems.

Organization: iTAC is composed of volunteer representatives who meet as a committee on a monthly basis. Ideally, a representative from each Department participates in iTAC. The committee is informally organized, with each meeting chaired by a member who has volunteered for that purpose. A member of ISAC is expected to attend each meeting, to convey the results of the iTAC meeting back to ISAC. Under direction of the County Administrator, General Services’ ITS division is responsible for providing administrative support to the committee meetings.

In addition to regularly scheduled meetings, iTAC will maintain a website, on which pertinent information will be stored for sharing with all departments and interested members of the public. This information shall include meeting agenda and minutes; presentation materials; schedules of future meetings; and materials and tools to help Departments in the selection and implementation of information systems.

In addition to regularly scheduled meetings, iTAC will maintain a website, on which pertinent information will be stored for sharing with all Departments and interested members of the public. This information shall include meeting agenda and minutes; presentation materials; schedules of future meetings; and materials and tools to help Departments in the selection and implementation of information systems.

Decision Making Process: As an informal committee, formal decisions are not arrived at by iTAC. iTAC forwards recommendations based upon a consensus of the committee on to ISAC for consideration. Such recommendations may be made to ISAC in the form of documents such as a Risk Analysis of a new system proposal, general technical comments or other forms of communications regarding proposed projects under review by iTAC. A Risk Analysis or other technical review may be authored by the responsible Department, or by a volunteer from the iTAC.

Sponsor: Deputy County Administrator, ISAC Chairman

Chairperson: Volunteer member of iTAC Members: A representative from each County Department, ideally the Departmental DP/IS Manager, the Department Head or Assistant Department Head, or the Chief IT staff member from that Department.

 


1 "Web-enabled" typically means that a system is able to connect to or be used on the Web. While this has been technically possible for several years, the cost of accomplishing this functionality has come down and significant recent gains in software development have made this an economically viable and easy to implement vehicle for one Department to obtain and view the data of another Department.

2 "Open" refers to systems that include ODBC (Open Database Connectivity) programming that provides a common language to access databases on a network.

3 There were no cost projections done by the County past 2002. However, cost estimates through Internet research, Data Warehouse conference notes, and an interview with personnel at the Georgia Institute of Technology, corroborated these estimates.

4 The ReGIS System will include scanned copies of the actual title and conveyance documents in the near future