Legislative Analyst's Office
February 22, 1995

Department of Corrections (5240)

Assuring Effective Implementation of the Correctional Management Information System

We recommend that the department advise the Legislature, at the time of budget hearings, on the status of its efforts to award a contract to a consultant to assure the quality of the initial phase of the Correctional Management Information System, and the specific role the consultant will perform.

The budget includes $12.7 million from the General Fund to continue the CDC's primary information technology (IT) project--the Correctional Management Information System (CMIS). Initiated in 1992, the CMIS is intended to provide the department a single automated system that would maintain comprehensive information about offenders and support various departmental activities.

Funds proposed in the budget will be allocated to the first of five planned stages for this new system, as follows:

Automating Offender Information. Currently, the majority of an offender's prison record is maintained in a paper file known as the Central File (C-File). The C-File is normally stored at the institution where the offender is incarcerated. When a prisoner is transferred manually from one institution to another, the inmate's C-File has to be processed and transferred through as many as four different sections within the prison, requiring a significant amount of time. These files are critical for making management decisions such as offender releases or transfers, disciplinary activities, or job assignments. Any error in these types of decisions could place both staff and inmates in physical danger. Because there is only one C-File for an inmate, problems occur when more than one staff member needs the file or when the file is missing.

Although the CDC currently has an automated data system for tracking offender information, this system is outdated and cannot be expanded to meet the growing inmate population. The current system is also inefficient since it is unable to record and track the type of information necessary for the department to carry out its responsibilities.

CMIS Not Unlike Other Major IT Projects. Although the CMIS project is unique to the department, it is not unlike most other major IT projects in terms of the challenge inherent in the effort to implement a major automation system. Like many other state projects, CMIS has had some false starts, has experienced cost increases and schedule delays, and benefit estimates have been recalculated. Figure 21 displays significant changes in the CMIS project since its inception.

Assuring a Quality Product. In our June 1994 report Information Technology: An Important Tool For a More Effective Government, we discussed problems state agencies face when trying to implement IT solutions, and recommended several approaches which we believe can help to assure a successful project. One approach is to contract for expert assistance when departmental technical staff do not have the specialized skills to meet a specific need. In that regard, the department has allocated $1.5 million of CMIS project funds to pay for the services of a consultant hired to perform specified tasks to assure the quality of the products delivered by the primary vendor (selected in December 1994) to develop Phase I of the CMIS. This concept--also known as independent verification and validation--has been employed by the federal government to assure the success of complex technology projects.

Will CMIS be a Model? Performing independent verification and validation calls for a specialized set of skills which are employed continually throughout the project development cycle to ensure that any problems are identified, assessed and resolved. Although some vendors who implement major IT projects may possess such skills, it is more desirable to have this task performed by an independent consultant, as history has shown that both primary contractors and state managers have in many instances made decisions which have effectively ignored fundamental project problems. Therefore, we believe that the department's current effort to acquire an independent quality assurance consultant is a step in the right direction. Also, we believe that this approach could serve as a model for several other major state IT projects which are currently experiencing difficulties, as noted in other sections of this Analysis.

The CDC plans to award the contract for the quality assurance contractor on February 28, 1995, which is significant because the primary contractor is scheduled to begin work on March 1. Given the importance of the CMIS project, and the potential that quality assurance consultants can play with regard to other state IT projects, we recommend that the department advise the Legislature, at the time of budget hearings, as to the status of its effort to hire a quality assurance contractor, and the specific role the contractor will play to help assure the success of the CMIS project.

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