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
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
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,
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.
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.
"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
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
TERESA ALVAREZ, developer
BRENDA BAUSER, analyst
RANDY BROWN, developer
JIM CARUTH, developer
MICHELE CHESAK, developer
JIM GASTON, developer
POONAM GOEL, developer
LORRAINE JOHNSON, analyst
DANA JONES, DBA
KATHY KELSEY, admin. tech.
KIM WEATHERFORD, deputy director information services
|KEITH MARTINSON, manager
BETH MATUS, technical support
KAREN MCDONALD, developer
MARY ROSS-BLAKE, analyst
SARA SARABIA-ZAMORA, tech. supp.
RICK SELIG, developer
BRYAN WILSON, director application development & maintenance
MIKE FERNANDEZ, director information services
MIKE SHERIDAN, executive director, Texas Workforce Commission