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CIO Ram Murthy: New architecture saves Peace Corps $1M

CIO Ram Murthy explains how new business processes enabled the Peace Corps to successfully migrate off legacy systems and save $1 million by eliminating license fees.

CIO Ram Murthy discusses how while at the Peace Corps, he successfully migrated the organization's outdated legacy systems using a three-pronged roadmap: redefined processes, infrastructure upgrades and sustainable solutions to meet customer expectations.

SPEAKER'S BIOGRAPHY: Murthy is currently CIO of the Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General. He spent five years as director of applications systems at the Peace Corps, where he transformed the organization's IT infrastructure. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering from the National Institute of Technology Durgapur in West Bengal, India; a master's degree in mechanical engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT); and a master's degree in computer science from NJIT.

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Read the full transcript from this podcast below:

CIO Ram Murthy: New architecture saves Peace Corps $1M

Kate Evans-Correia:  Good morning, my name is Kate Evans-Correia and I'm the executive editor of SearchCIO-Midmarket. I'm about to chat with Ram Murthy, CIO of the US Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General, who is here today to talk about a major IT project he was involved in while at the Peace Corps. Ram recently left his job as Director of Application Systems for the Peace Corps in Washington, DC to become CIO at the Department of Transportation, Office of Inspector General. Ram's project which included the migration off of legacy systems was awarded the 2008 Midmarket IT Leadership award by SearchCIO-Midmarket.  First, welcome, and congratulations on this award. You really undertook quite a massive project. Why don't you give us an overview of that project?

Ram Murthy:  Thank you Kate. Yes, recently I have, probably say it's a major undertaking at the Peace Corps and it had to do with the IT modernization streamlining application. We know that with the advancement of emerging technology, the main frame computing environment at Peace Corps has become outdated. This environment hosted key applications that are critical to the day to day operations, provided behind the scene support to ensure that our Peace Corps volunteers can effectively perform their duties. The mainframe migration project gave new life to the legacy application and facilitated business process re-engineering. I would say that to my leadership I presented a cost justification for the mainframe migration which resulted in significant.

Kate Evans-Correia:  So, explain to us what you moved from and to. So, what hardware to what hardware, what software to what software?

Ram Murthy:  Yes, about 800 users logged onto the mainframe on a daily basis. This is from the various regional offices and the headquarters. Most of these applications were built using VMX and Oracle form 3.0 that were driven by an Oracle server on the mainframe.

The applications had to do from the selection of the volunteers or I should say from the recruitment of the volunteers, the selection process, the staging, the training, the projects that they do, and the close of service. It's an entire life cycle and the technology that was used here was, as I said before, the Oracle forms and the Oracle server, and this is running on a VM environment and we had to move it to a distributed environment on HP-UX and also get it to the latest Oracle 10G environment.

Kate Evans-Correia:  Why did you choose the applications that you did and the hardware that you did?

Ram Murthy: Well, first it is two things. We did not want to encounter any additional cost. We had an environment where our financial systems were sort of running on a distributed environment and we wanted to use some cost savings so we used a similar hardware. So, that is one aspect. Enterprise license was another aspect. The other thing that I would say was that our users were very nervous that once we did the migration, would they have to go through a whole new training issue. And trying to keep the functionality the same, trying to keep the user interface as much as possible, we were led to do in this fashion.

Kate Evans-Correia:  So, then now that the project is completed, have you calculated cost savings at this point? And if so, where and how much? And maybe on just a different level, what about sort of performance from users and what they’re able to see?

Ram Murthy:  Well, first to begin with, the agency has been saved from the recurring cost of the license fees. And to some extent, lowering the hardware and software maintenance costs by getting rid of the aging mainframe. The other parts the redundant investment are somewhat hard to measure, and they have to do with the qualitative aspects such as enhanced user productivity, faster response times, that would only prove to be worthwhile over time. But overall, I would say that the users are quite happy.

The other aspect that I would say is that once we did the migration, the user satisfaction was very high. We were thinking that it's a big change for the users and there would be a lot of issues and complaints. We were preparing the help desk to expect a lot of calls, but in reality, there were just a few support calls. The whole process just went very well.

Kate Evans-Correia:   Very good. Did anything during the project go wrong?  Maybe something that you didn't expect?   Something that was unplanned that you had to sort of step back and take a look at?

Ram Murthy:   Yes, I would say so. I forgot to mention earlier this was a project that was attempted before by my predecessors and halfway along the project, it had to be pulled back. So, that is the baseline that we had to work with and it was not an easy sell to the agency because of the given past history.

What I would say worked for us was the frequent communication with the stakeholders. And also we had the power users involved throughout the project. Not to mention the good project management principals with milestones to measure progress. And of course a passionate team that just kept focused on the deliverables.

Kate Evans-Correia:  How long did the project take you? When did you start it from the very, very first stage to having to sell this upper management to the time it was actually completely deployed?

Ram Murthy:  I would say it's about eight months, eight to nine months. When we started the project, pretty much about half of that had to go into the planning stage. Another thing that we did was we looked at the scope of effort. Since the mainframe was there right from the day the Peace Corps was started, although the number of databases are small, we had close to 1500 applications and reports. And that number was quite large to do it in the time frame that we were planning to get the project completed.

What helped us was putting them into various buckets I would say that we had with constant involvement of the users. We could classify them into various buckets such as migrate these, retire these, these are duplicates, these need enhancements, and so on. And we are done with this analysis, the number just dropped to 600, which is much more manageable.

Kate Evans-Correia:  Did you bring any other applications or things like processes like ITIL or BPM or any sort of business intelligence or anything like that to help you incorporate this project?

Ram Murthy:  More than ITIL, I would say it was actually good project management skills. The other thing that we were looking at was Peace Corps had enterprise architecture process already in place. And what we wanted to make sure that as we did the migration, we were not creating another stovepipe application but it was in line with the enterprise architecture where we wanted the business processes to go. It was the enterprise architecture and good project management methodology.

Kate Evans-Correia:   So, how many people did you have, including yourself, working specifically on this project?

Ram Murthy:  From the Peace Corps side we had... or maybe I'd say from the IT side, we had about eight or nine people purely dedicated in this. From the business unit side, we had close to 15, 20 members that were constantly helping us, giving us feedback on how we are progressing.

Kate Evans-Correia:  Did you use outside consultants?

Ram Murthy:  Yes, we did. And I'm not sure if I can say who that is, not being a part of Peace Corps right now.

Kate Evans-Correia:   Right. But would you say having outside consultants then were helpful to the deployment?

Ram Murthy:   Yes. And the project was also on a fixed price basis.

Kate Evans-Correia:  Okay. So, again, I just want to go back. You just has eluded to it a little earlier, but again that this project had been attempted before but had failed. And I think it's very important to sort of reiterate that a project like this isn't just about the technology. Let's just step back for a second and just from day one explain why this project was successful.

Ram Murthy:  Well, first I would say that having the key power users and the senior management involved is a key thing. We need to have them. Communication is also essential. With frequent communication, all the business units had visibility I would say in the overall process right from the requirements, implication, deployment, operation.

Kate Evans-Correia: Right. So, excuse me, just for second. When you say they had visibility, did you provide handbooks? Did you provide daily updates? Did you have a website that they could go to for updates? What does visibility mean?

Ram Murthy:  There were a couple of things for different people. For the project team, yes, we had created a SharePoint site that the project team could bring in the issues and deal with them. From the senior management side, we had monthly meetings.

It was the IRB (International Review Board) meeting where I would go and present just a snapshot of what was actually going on. And from the key power users, they would also give feedback to their direct managers on how things were going. So, it was from the IT side and the CIO side, I was presented to senior management status. And the users themselves, through their chain of command, would let the senior managers know what was going on. So it was more like a 360 degree communication cycle.

Kate Evans-Correia:  Okay. Terrific.




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