Client/server with a Twist helps Texas integrate Welfare systems

COMPANY: State of Texas
PURPOSE: Integrate the access of several mainframe systems into a unified client interface.

APPLICATION: Texas Workforce Information System of Texas (Twist -- In 1996, the United States federal government, via passage of The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, challenged state governments to better administer welfare and get more people off welfare and into the working world.

Since that time, the federal government has been distributing welfare money to the 50 states in the form of block grants, which the state must disburse. Of course, there are strings attached to the federal money -- states must be as efficient as possible and have streamlined welfare programs. To help deal with the welfare reform issue, the Texas legislature formed the Texas Workforce Commission to oversee all work and welfare related issues. The commission divided the state into 28 geographic regions, each spanning between one and 34 counties, in an effort to further the local control over welfare subsidies. The commission recommended that control of all of the state's various welfare programs be consolidated into a single facility and administrative computer system. The goal: to create a more efficient process for getting people off welfare and back on their feet.

Out of this initiative was born The Workforce Information System of Texas -- or Twist for short. Twist is a multiple phase project that is integrating disparate legacy and relational data systems into a more singular, intuitive system, according to Joan Kotal, Twist's project manager.

The first phase of the project called for building a single point of access to six different systems, each of which had a different client entry system. With the help of Emeryville, Calif.-based Sybase Corp., Kotal and a team of 24 staff members, including users and developers, developed a client/server-based system that enable case workers to use a single, GUI-based terminal to access and enter data once, into all six different systems.

Prior to implementing the first phase of Twist in June 1997, a case worker would have had to input data six different times into six different systems in order to assess a person in need. According to Kotal, those applying for welfare assistance would have to travel to multiple offices and essentially provide the same basic information, such as name, address, social security number and information about dependents, over and over again.

With Twist in place, a case worker can update all the legacy systems in a single instance and similarly, query all the systems at once. "We've lowered the needs assessment intake time to 20 minutes, compared to 45 minutes before hand," Kotal said. "That's 25 minutes more that a case worker can spend with a client."

Twist is also less burdensome on clients, who now can enroll in one place for several programs.

Technically, the challenge was to integrate two IBM mainframes running two different databases, three different database systems running in Unisys machines and one statewide system with a single user interface. "We had been analyzing the project for two years before we began coding in January of 1997," Kotal said.

Despite having to integrate six heterogeneous systems into a single client interface, the development cycle only took about six months, including coding, testing, piloting and statewide roll-out of the system.

Part of Twist's success can be traced to user involvement as two different user groups were formed at the beginning of the project. The first was called the Program Automation Group that was in charge of reviewing the requirements and prototyping of the system. The group also advised on PC procurement and network connectivity issues. A second, smaller group of users worked with the Workforce Commission during the design phase and helped in the initial pilot and implementation.

Kotal said her group evaluated a number of different systems, including some from Oracle and Informix, but ultimately settled on Sybase's line of databases and development tools, foremost being client/server legend, PowerBuilder.


The Workforce Integrated System of Texas (Twist) project at the Texas Workforce Commission is awarded the honor in this category for emphasizing the use of client/server tools in the development of enterprise-wide applications. The application was the first multitiered system developed by the agency and has provided remarkable benefits for the company. The system integrates separate agency information systems to provide an integrated service delivery and tracking mechanism. The common interface provided by the application can now be used to update any of the legacy systems with the middleware providing a transparent layer between the user and the legacy systems.
The Twist development team, which did not have any real experience with client/server development, was trained and "mentored" by Sybase consultants. Also, a few programmer/consultants from Sybase Professional Services were used for some of the back-end database integration work.

"There was very much a learning curve," Kotal said. "The training and mentoring from Sybase helped tremendously. [Our programming goal] was to remove as much of the network from the transaction as possible."

About 12 developers worked on building the front end using PowerBuilder, while the combination of a relational database and a number of middleware products sit between the client interface and ultimately, the mainframe. Twist uses a Sybase database as the staging area for data going to and from the mainframe, while Sybase Enterprise Connect, Net Gateway for HP-UX and Open Server for CICS are used to connect the litany of mainframes. Ad hoc query needs are met with Sybase's Infomaker 5.0 reporting tool that runs on the client system.

Remote offices are connected to the central system by way of 56Kb and T1 lines. Some of the offices also piggyback on near by state university Internet connections.

Kotal said there was initially some resistance from switching from the familiar terminal environment to a PC-based environment, but the user interaction in the project helped ease some of the tensions.

Overall, the first phase of the project, which was funded by federal grants, cost between $1.5 million and $2 million to build and serves 2,000 users throughout the state. Twist handles an average of 8,000 transactions per day and up to 16,000 transactions on peak days, Kotal said. Phase one of the project did not realize any cost savings for the state, as a number of new PCs had to be purchased to support Twist. Kotal said costs savings should be realized in the latter stages of the project.

The next two phases, which began to roll-out last month, will bring other federal program administration systems into Twist as well as provide Internet access to the system so recipients can view job listings remotely without having to make a trip to the local Welfare office. Kotal also hopes to provide additional case management and service tracking functionality in the second phase of the project.

Twist's success even has other state governments looking at the system. Kotal said that North Carolina is planning to pilot the system in its own Welfare organization.

According to Kotal, the long-term goal of the project is to be able to integrate other public agencies such as Public Health and Welfare, Education and Taxes into the system to ensure that a complete history of all clients is available at the time data is entered into the system.

- Jason J. Meserve


JOAN KOTAL, project manager



RANDY BROWN, developer

JIM CARUTH, developer


JIM GASTON, developer

POONAM GOEL, developer



KATHY KELSEY, admin. tech.

KIM WEATHERFORD, deputy director information services

BETH MATUS, technical support




RICK SELIG, developer

BRYAN WILSON, director application development & maintenance

MIKE FERNANDEZ, director information services

MIKE SHERIDAN, executive director, Texas Workforce Commission

In addition to saving money, the system gives case workers quicker and easier access to Welfare-related system, resulting in better case management and more time spent with clients instead of with the computer.

Sybase PowerBuilder 5.0

Sybase S-Designer
Sybase Infomaker 5.0 (a reporting tool)

Sybase Enterprise Connect

Net Gateway for HP-UX

Open Server for CICS

Mainframe systems from Unysis, IBM and proprietary state system

HP 900/k200 server running HP-UX

Client PCs all Windows based

SQL Server 11.0.2

Mainframe legacy databases