CIO revs up highway patrol with massive application modernization

CIO revs up highway patrol with massive application modernization

Date: Jun 20, 2011

Clifford Gronauer, CIO at the Missouri State Highway Patrol, doesn't look like someone who is easily ruffled. That aura of calm no doubt has served him well in recent years as he has led an application modernization project that replaces the highway patrol's legacy environment en masse.

"The original plan was to do it piecemeal, like most organizations," confessed Gronauer, a finalist for the 2011 MIT Sloan CIO Symposium Award for Innovation Leadership.

As Gronauer explains in this CIO Innovator video, however, a "perfect storm" of events persuaded him to go big. The organization's mainframe-based legacy applications, most of them developed in the 1970s, were expensive to run and to maintain. Moreover, he was hard put to find people to support them. "Let's face it, when kids come out of college today with their IT degrees, COBOL and CICS are not real high on their hit parade," he said. In addition, the patrol's 2,500 officers and civilian employees were clamoring for more features and functions. Then came a potential windfall: federal grant money -- assuming he could muster an appeal on short notice.

"We had a 10-day window from the time we found out about the grant to when the application was due," Gronauer said. "With luck, skill, whatever, somebody was shining down on us and we got a fairly sizeable grant that helped fund at least the startup of the project."

The application modernization project is entering its second phase. The modules -- all off-the-shelf software -- are in production. Efforts now are focused on improving systems that serve not only the patrol but also about 10,000 users throughout Missouri's criminal justice system. Even at this stage, however, it is probably fair to say that the application modernization project is life-changing.

The project's linchpin is the patrol's computer-aided dispatch, or CAD, solution, Gronauer said. That system puts out initial calls for help and connects with the laptops installed in patrol officers' cars. The map-based approach of the new software is particularly effective for a largely rural state like Missouri, he said, where the patrol generally does not respond to specific addresses but to mile makers on interstate highways. The software also allows officers to do single-entry data: For example, once they've scanned a license's bar code, they can access the driver's information and print out a ticket in the patrol car. The project's overall goal was to improve officers' accuracy and reduce the amount of time they spend on administrative duties. "We're trying to revolutionize the quality of their jobs," he added.

Watch the video to hear more about the technical challenges of the application modernization project and how Gronauer deployed his personnel to ensure maximum IT innovation.

CIO Innovators

The SearchCIO.com CIO Innovators profile series highlights how CIOs use technology to meet both IT and business leadership objectives. To suggest a leader for a future CIO Innovator profile, email editor@searchcio.com.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Linda Tucci, Senior News Writer.

 


 

Read the full transcript from this video below:  

CIO revs up highway patrol with massive application modernization

 

Linda Tucci:   Hi, I'm Linda Tucci, senior news writer for SearchCIO.com, speaking today with Cliff Gronauer, CIO of the Missouri State Highway Patrol. Cliff and I are at the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts, at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, where Cliff is one of three nominees for the CIO Innovator Award. Cliff, thank you very much for being with us today.

 

Cliff Gronauer:  Thank you, Linda.

 

Linda Tucci:   Cliff, tell us a little bit about the project that you are nominated for.

 

Cliff Gronauer:  We've kind of taken a unique approach to modernizing our application environment with the highway patrol. Most law enforcement agencies have a number of core applications that they use on a regular basis, and it's not uncommon for them to replace one or maybe two of those at a time. What we've done is we've kind of thrown the baby out with the bathwater, and we've done the whole thing all at once. We had a variety of opportunities that kind of presented the perfect storm, so to speak, and we took advantage of that, and it has really turned out very well for the organization.

 

Linda Tucci:   So what was the impetus for this application modernization project?

 

Cliff Gronauer:  Well, we had been looking at replacing most of the applications, and our original plan was to piecemeal it, like most other organizations. Most of the applications were legacy variety - they had been developed in the '70s, they were mainframe based, expensive to run, expensive to maintain.

 

Let's face it - when kids come out of college today with their IT degrees, COBOL and CICS are not real high on their hit parade. So it was becoming difficult to find people to support the applications, so we started looking around for what's available in the marketplace. So we're looking for primarily off-the-shelf software. And we found a variety of vendors out there. These companies all had good track records, implementations - sizable implementations, that was one of the other criteria that we were looking for, because we're a fairly good-size organization, and we support a lot of users, so we needed something that would scale well.

 

So we found a variety of these applications, and we embarked on what we were originally considering to be a kind of phased-in implementation - do one application this year, another one the next, et cetera. But we stumbled across some grant funding opportunities that were a little too good to pass up. So it turned out to be one of those - we weighed the pros and cons of doing everything at one time versus doing it piecemeal and paying for it ourselves, and we ended up going the whole route and doing it all at one time.

 

Linda Tucci:   And how many users do you support? How big is your organization?

 

Cliff Gronauer:  The organization itself is about 2500 people. That includes all the uniformed officers and the civilians. But we also support every law enforcement and criminal justice agency throughout the state, in one fashion or another, which is somewhere around 10,000 users. So it's a pretty sizable support operation.

 

Linda Tucci:   So we've been talking about innovation with CIOs all this year, and one of the things that we're really curious about is who or what at the organization is driving this particular innovation. So you said, one of the reasons why you had to modernize is that the new generation coming in just isn't particularly interested in those legacy applications, or know as much about them, and we heard that just in the first session at the MIT symposium, that adapting to this new work force is critical if you want to succeed. Was there anyone else in your organization, or any other force that was pushing you to modernize these applications?

 

Cliff Gronauer:  Well, the users themselves were clamoring for more functionality, and then our command staff, which is our senior management, they were very supportive, and I think they were very aware that in the coming years, something had to be done. And they knew that modernizing these, to a certain extent, would make everyone's life more productive, give them better information on a more timely basis, and probably end up, in the long run, being more economical, because we would be able to run them on a server-based platform, rather than a mainframe. So we had a variety of factors that came into play when these decisions were being made, and some were pushing harder than others.

 

Linda Tucci:   And the grant money? Where did that come from?

 

Cliff Gronauer:   Anybody that's ever been affiliated or had any opportunities to work with the federal government - some of these grant announcements are very short-term, to put it bluntly. We had about a 10-day window from the time we found out about this grant opportunity until the application was due.

 

Linda Tucci:   Wow.

 

Cliff Gronauer:   So we scrambled and put an application together, and submitted it, and by luck, skill, whatever it was, somebody was shining down on us, and we ended up getting a fairly sizable grant that helped fund at least the start-up of this project.

 

Linda Tucci:   And where are you now on the project?

 

Cliff Gronauer:   We have all of the modules in production now, and we're working on what we can do to make things better, enhance them - moving on to Phase 2, of what we can do to make things better now.

 

Linda Tucci:   Can you give me just a couple of examples of the applications that you're bringing in?

 

Cliff Gronauer:   Sure. The starting point, at least from a logical perspective, is computer-aided dispatch - we refer to it as CAD. That is where our call-takers get the initial calls. They look to see who is available to respond to the call, and then they assign that call to the appropriate officer or whatever other resource they need. That is done on more of a map-based approach, which is a big plus for us because covering the entire state, we're generally not responding to calls at a specific address.

 

Most of our calls are "somewhere on Mile Marker 2 on Highway 70" or something along those lines, so the map-based approach worked much better for us than the address-based approach. We have that, and we have in the cars, the laptops for the officers. They have an interface with the CAD system, so they can see the same maps that the dispatchers see. Also on these maps, we see all of the vehicles - an automated vehicle location system. So they can track who is where, see who is nearby if they need backup, etc.

 

The software in the cars also gives them the capability of doing single data entry, so when they pull a violator over, they scan the barcode on their driver’s license, they get all the information from that driver’s license - they don't have to key it in. Saves them a lot of time, makes it much more accurate, and then as more and more of these come into play, if we have multi-car incidents, multiple people involved, the time savings just goes up dramatically at that point. So they also have the capability of producing the tickets in the car - printing them out, so they don't have to hand-write them anymore - again, saving them a lot of time.

 

The goal, really, overall, was to make things more accurate, and to reduce the amount of administrative time that the officers had to spend. It gives them more time to spend on the road, so it makes them more visible, and that was really the overriding goal.

 

Linda Tucci:   So IT is really sort of revolutionizing or improving the quality of their jobs.

 

Cliff Gronauer:  Well, we're trying to. And the other thing that really comes into play here - we talked about the IT workers not wanting to mess with the old systems - we're finding too there's some of an age-related acceptance on the officers' level, too. Some of the folks that have been on the force for twenty, thirty years, they're looking at some of the computer stuff and they're going, "I'm not real sure I want to mess with that", but the younger folks are really, really very accepting of what's going on, and very supportive, and they take to it very well. But the new systems are so easy to use, and so intuitive, that even the old-timers are catching on and being more productive with what we're giving them.

 

Linda Tucci:   What were the biggest technical challenges of the project, Cliff, and what were the biggest challenges for you as a CIO?

 

Cliff Gronauer:  The technical challenges were probably more related to integration. These applications that we're purchasing - we've got five different applications from four different vendors, and most of them have been very accustomed to coming into a project where they were the only new face, so they had essentially, solid walls all around them, and they just had to fill in-between. This particular situation was very different, because everything was changing, all at the same time. So there was really no core, solid foundation for any of them to brace themselves against.

 

So that was probably the biggest technical challenge, was getting them all to work together, to develop the interfaces and things like that. From an organizational perspective, one of the things that we did that was very different was assigning project leads - from a technical perspective - project leads that were outside of their comfort zone. In other words, I've got a very large and very excellent staff, but rather than putting someone on the CAD project that had been working with CAD for years, we put somebody different that had never worked with CAD before.

 

And the reason we did that was, number one, to give them a new opportunity, but number two, to keep those old habits from carrying forward. We didn't want things to develop so that it was, "We've always done it this way, so we're going to keep doing it this way." We wanted them to take a fresh look at, and have them question, "Why are we doing things like this?" So that was something we did that was a little bit different.

 

Linda Tucci:   One last question, and you have to brag about yourself - what would you say are the attributes, or your leadership style, that most contributed to the success of this project?

 

Cliff Gronauer:  I would have to say that probably delegation to a very high degree. I'm very much a fan of the "let me give you something, and you run with it". And I'm here if you need guidance, advice, help, if I need to find some resources or shield you from the stuff that's rolling downhill - that's how I view my job. But I want to develop the folks that are doing the projects - let them be as involved as they possibly can, let them make the decisions. How else can you have a staff that's going to grow, unless they have those opportunities? So that's something that I try to do, and the old saying, "It's amazing what you can get done if you don't care who gets the credit?" I think we do a pretty good job of that.

 

Linda Tucci:   Cliff, thank you very much, and congratulations on your nomination.

 

Cliff Gronauer:  Thank you for taking the time to interview me today. I appreciate it.

 

Linda Tucci:   I'm Linda Tucci, senior news writer for SearchCIO, at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium on the MIT campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

 

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