5 Considerations for an Evergreen Solution Approach for Corrections
In hundreds of conversations with corrections CIOs over the past few years, a common theme has been echoed about the state of their key information assets. Specifically for their offender management technology, words such as ‘inflexible,’ ‘legacy,’ ‘expensive to maintain,’ ‘brittle,’ and ‘outdated’ have always part of how they have characterized their current environments. Further, the difficulty in finding qualified resources to maintain mainframe-based applications is often cited as a challenge, as is the concern that customized solutions are expensive and slow to respond to ever-changing agency requirements. Given the complex and evolving business challenges that confront today’s modern corrections agency, the situations described by these CIOs represent a significant barrier to improved operational and offender outcomes.
Not surprisingly, I am often asked to discuss how vendors today are addressing the issue of obsolete, legacy applications, and whether lessons have been learned to minimize the risk of obsolescence in the future. Given the multi-million dollar cost of the typical OMS modernization, it is a valid concern for any CIO.
The concept of an evergreen solution is not a new one. In the context of hardware, enterprise software applications, and support and maintenance, forward-thinking vendors have been working for years to perfect the process of automatically updating and evolving mission-critical solutions and environments to minimize the risk of obsolescence. The move to web-based applications and the increasing reliance on cloud-based computing have been critical enablers in this effort. Perhaps the best example of continuous evolution for an evergreen enterprise application is Microsoft Windows 10, with new releases automatically provided, based on availability of updates and end-user preferences.
Applying this evergreen technology concept to applications for the corrections enterprise is essential, but requires careful thought. Given the nature of the business processes that drive operations, and the thousands of users that comprise a single agency, daily updates, pushed automatically by the vendor, won’t work. As a mission-critical safety and security application, any change to the OMS must be thoroughly vetted by the CIO’s team before it is released into production. It is simply not possible nor necessary for changes to be delivered on a daily or even weekly basis. However, a planned program of quarterly updates, carefully coordinated with the agency, is manageable and will help to avoid technology and business logic obsolescence.
What then are the key considerations for the agency as it contemplates an evergreen approach as part of its OMS modernization? In my view, there are five.
1. Is your new OMS intended to serve the agency for a period of ten years or more?
2. Are you facing changes on a regular basis to jurisdictional requirements, internal policies or organization structure that must be reflected within your main operational system?
3. Does the solution allow for unique customizations and configurations without impacting the efficient upgradeability of the overall system?
4. Is the application driven by a defined product roadmap and investment process, and is that roadmap regularly shared with customers?
5. Does a community or network of users exist across agencies to share with the vendor ideas related to the enhancement or evolution of the application?
Different agencies will likely have additional questions or concerns with respect to an evergreen approach to its OMS environment, but the list above represents an excellent starting point for discussion. In my view, when an agency seeks to modernize its OMS, there is considerable – and appropriate – emphasis placed on system functionality and technical performance. As well, the project management and implementation approach always receive scrutiny. But just as often, there is insufficient consideration given to the long-term viability of the solution. Will the new OMS still be in a position to address the information needs of the agency in 10, 15 or 20 years? That’s an important question. Given the central importance the OMS plays in addressing the complex information requirements for the corrections agency, long-term solution considerations should be a key component of modernization planning. Agencies no longer need to be constrained by an inflexible, expensive-to-maintain OMS that is difficult to evolve with the ever-changing needs of the business.
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