State Tax Collector Modernizes iSeries System, Wins Award
September 25, 2012 Alex Woodie
Instead of ripping out its customized iSeries systems and installing a brand new pre-packaged system to the tune of about $40 million, the New Hampshire Department of Revenue Administration (DRA) elected to modernize its existing iSeries infrastructure, using integration and business intelligence tools from Information Builders. In addition to saving tens of millions of dollars of taxpayer money, the implementation won an award.
The DRA is a critical component of government operations in the state of New Hampshire. The agency collects about $1.4 billion annually from 253 state municipalities, and is responsible for overseeing the statewide property tax system and also for setting tax rates. Nearly 80 percent of the state’s general funds go through the DRA, which is also tasked with feeding revenue projections to the state legislature.
The biggest IT hurdle facing the DRA didn’t involve processing transactions, but managing its information. With so many sources of revenue to track, the DRA was finding it increasingly difficult to capture, report, and analyze taxpayer data in a timely manner. The culprit, in this case, was inflexibility in an old COBOL application, the Taxpayer Information Management System, running on a Power 6-based iSeries server.
“New Hampshire is one of just a few states that requests its Department of Revenue to estimate revenue, yet our agency lacked adequate tools for analyzing historical trends and conducting future planning,” DRA assistant commissioner Margaret Fulton says in a case study posted to the Information Builders website. “We had no way to tell precisely where the money came from because our information systems didn’t provide the data that we needed in a user-friendly way.”
Commissioner Kevin Clougherty and his IT staff analyzed the potential solutions to this problem. It could follow the lead of other state tax agencies and implement a new pre-packaged revenue management system. However, that would require dumping its existing COBOL code (and probably the iSeries server), and paying anywhere from $40 million to $100 million for the licenses, services, and hardware to get the new system up and running. (As is the case in any major migration project, there are risks, such as cost overruns, delays, and outright failure, which can be difficult to quantify in a spreadsheet).
The DRA looked for alternatives, and found a good one in Information Builders, a developer of business intelligence, analytics, and reporting tools, and its subsidiary, iWay Software, which makes data adapters and connectors. Info Builders proposed building a customized information system on top of DRA’s DB2/400 data store that could do everything the prepackaged revenue management systems could do, at a fraction of the price.
Clougherty bought into Info Builder’s vision, and set out to find the funding. He petitioned the state legislature for $7 million for the project, and got the OK to go ahead with the project, dubbed “Granite to Green.”
The project has various components at DRA. First and foremost is a new application, called Single View of the Taxpayer that allows DRA workers to get all the information they need about individual taxpayers, including their address, outstanding tax notices, relationships with other taxpayers in the system, and taxes owed.
The fact that DRA workers can access information that’s stored in different places (including DB2/400, SQL Server, Access, and Excel) from a single WebFOCUS dashboard is a boon for productivity. In the case study, Brian Pace, systems architect at the DRA, called the WebFOCUS dashboard “an octopus with tentacles reaching into all of the different information systems.”
DRA is also using WebFOCUS ReportCaster to sling out operational reports on a regular basis; WebFOCUS InfoAssist, which lets workers modify the reporting parameters easily without involving IT personnel; and WebFOCUS RStat, for statistical modeling and forecasting. “The goal is to more precisely identify how various economic factors impact revenue projects,” Pace says. “We intend to leverage Information Builders’ statistical modeling tools to determine how unemployment statistics, the rate of inflation, movements in the S&P 500, and other factors figure into the department’s projections.”
The agency is using various iWay connectors to get at the data, and to sort out the data once it finds it. It’s using iWay Data Quality to enforce data consistency across all DRA systems. It’s also using iWay connectors in Mosaic, a new geographic information system (GIS) that the DRA is developing to provide visual references for tax revenue-related items of interest.
The DRA managed to accomplish its reporting and analytic goals by modernizing its iSeries interfaces, as opposed to implementing a new revenue management system. Considering that the DRA spent only about 10 percent of its $7 million funding on Info Builder’s software and services (the rest went to buying new telecom gear, new imaging and electronic remittance systems, new mail extraction systems, and other investments in database design, GIS design, and business process management [BPM]), then this would have to be considered a successful project.
In fact, the project was so successful that the implementation was awarded the Best Fit Integrator Modernization Award in Finance and Administration by the Center for Digital Government.
“Our entire infrastructure is evolving, and the cost is minimal compared to what other states are paying for similar revenue-management and reporting capabilities,” Clougherty says. “For a relatively small investment we are making it a lot easier for New Hampshire citizens to interact with their state. As with any undertaking of this complexity, there is plenty that still needs to be done. However, at this point in the process we are well underway towards achieving our goals.”