Harris County Standardizes Enterprise Application Platform to Streamline Asset Management and Improve Services

Harris County, the fifth largest metro area in the US, strives to meet the needs of its expanding population, businesses, and visitors. The Harris County Information Technology Center (ITC), which serves more than 80 agencies and departments, has been especially challenged with reduced budgets, legacy systems, and high expectations. The department uses Microsoft Dynamics CRM as a platform for rapid development of applications that improve service delivery and facilitate sustainable, responsible management of Harris County assets. Today, the ITC has significantly decreased the costs of government service delivery by replacing standalone database applications with well-defined workflows and point solutions that interoperate and adhere to a common, countywide data strategy.

Situation

As the third-largest county in the US, Harris County, Texas, is home to 4.1 million people—more residents than many US states. Rapid population growth (a 50% increase in the first decade of the new century) has strained county agencies and service delivery systems at a time when revenues are decreasing. Given the size of the population, Harris County has experienced the challenges facing local governments over the past few years on a very large scale.

In particular, the Harris County Information Technology Center (ITC), which serves more than 80 agencies and departments, has learned the true meaning of “doing more with less.” Reduced budgets have meant limited funding for new systems and infrastructure, and strained headcount as experienced staff members leave for more lucrative jobs in the private sector.

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*Harris County recognizes the value of Microsoft Dynamics CRM in many, many instances. And, we strongly encourage our internal client base to migrate to it.*

Ed Pereira
Business Solutions Manager
Harris County

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The ITC develops, implements, and supports the numerous applications and communication systems necessary for the daily operation of county departments. But as with many large government operations, their mission is complicated by the existence of numerous legacy systems, some dating back 40 years or more to the early days of mainframe computing.

Since joining the ITC in 2008 as Manager of the Enterprise Business Solutions, Ed Pereira has been on a mission to modernize the IT environment, standardizing applications and infrastructure on a common, interoperable platform. “When I got here, coming from the private sector, I was amazed at the number of standalone database applications,” recalls Pereira. “So, when departments come to us for support with an application issue, a big part of our strategy is to migrate them onto our common platform.”

The platform includes Microsoft SQL Server as part of an enterprise database strategy, and front-end applications on built on Microsoft .NET, web technologies, or, increasingly, the xRM application framework in Microsoft Dynamics CRM. Pereira notes that as a rapid application development platform, Microsoft Dynamics CRM solves the issues of ad hoc reporting and interoperability that typify the legacy applications. Because the applications are relatively simple to configure and deploy, CRM allows the ITC to deliver full-featured applications without straining the limited resources.

Combined with Microsoft SQL Server and Microsoft SharePoint, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and the xRM application framework enable ITC to implement solutions that offer improved service delivery and more sustainable, responsible management of Harris County assets by providing the following:

  • Communication and collaboration facilitation

  • Access to accurate information and data

  • Support for end-to-end, people-driven processes.

“Harris County recognizes the value of Microsoft Dynamics CRM in many, many instances,” says Pereira. “And, we strongly encourage our internal client base to migrate to it.”

Solution

Harris County currently employs 10 enterprise-class business solutions built on Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011 and the XRM application framework. In each case, the value of the application is extended by the ability of Dynamics CRM to capture data from across departments and agencies in a common database as well as how rapidly IT staff can reconfigure or reuse application components and custom entities in additional applications or scenarios.

Transforming Asset Management and Reporting

One application, the County Asset Management System (CAMS), has transformed the way Harris County manages the county properties—roads, bridges, buildings, utilities, and other structures—that account for more than 90% of the county’s fixed assets. CAMS stores information about a particular asset (for example, the size, location, valuation, tax assessments, and insurance status) in a SQL Server database. This information is surfaced in a custom entity in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which allows users to generate ad hoc reports, export data to Microsoft Office Excel for analysis, or build dashboards that show performance of specific asset classes.
Integration with external data sources, including Harris County’s CAD system, Bing maps, and ESRI Geographic Information Systems, enables a further level of detail. As shown in Figure 1, people can literallysee the asset they are inspecting or reporting on, or they can identify assets under management simply by looking at an area on a map.

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*We have created a unifying platform that is transparent, easily used, graphically presented, and allows conversations across the enterprise to occur rapidly.*

Willard Puffer
Information Systems Officer, Public Infrastructure Division
Harris County

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Working in the CRM interface, precinct staff are easily able to determine if a proposed spending package is allowable under bond or grant covenants, as well as under GASB compliance rules. “This system is priceless,” says Willard Puffer, Information Systems Officer, Public Infrastructure Division. “For the county, time is more than money. Agencies are evaluated by outside auditing firms. Bond ratings and the ability of cities or counties to finance their operations are at risk. This is not a trivial exercise.”

Driven by calls for transparency in government and the need to comply with GASB accounting standards, CAMS was originally designed to help the county auditor with end-of-year financial reporting. The system has since been expanded to meet the needs of many stakeholders whose processes depend on Harris County’s myriad fixed assets:

  • County Commissioners used the system to complete a recent redistricting.

  • The county Fire Marshall is currently deploying an application that leverages the mapping system to aid in response planning.

  • The Houston Food Bank (the nation’s largest non-profit food bank) is deploying an xRM application that draws on the mapping services and other asset management data to plan food distribution during emergencies.

Streamlining Recruiting Processes

Another application built on Microsoft Dynamics CRM has significantly streamlined recruiting and hiring processes in the Harris County Sheriff’s Department—one of the largest agencies of its kind, with a US$400 million budget. The candidate screening system manages the entire lifecycle of a new job application, using workflows to speed up review and approval and automating or eliminating steps that previously required hundreds of hours of staff time each year.

Job seekers visiting the Harris County Sheriff Department website can search a list of open positions and begin the application process online. A dynamic screening process directs candidates to appropriate jobs, and they complete an application online. The system screens out undesirable or unqualified applicants who fail to meet basic criteria and sends a rejection notice by email—requiring no action by Sheriff’s Department staff.

Applications that pass the initial screening are routed to the appropriate department or individual using the workflow engine in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, where they can be reviewed, approved, rejected, or routed for additional screening.

On the Road Information System
On the Road Information System lets people use a Bing map of local roads and click to view detail.
Ensuring Prompt Resolution of Service Requests

A similar XRM application enables citizens to enter service requests—for example, to fill a pothole or dispose of road kill—from the Harris County website or a mobile phone. Using the mobile app, people can take a picture of the issue and upload it directly to the system. The application creates a service request in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, calculates the location of the issue using GIS data from the photograph, and routes the request to the appropriate precinct or commissioner. Meanwhile, commissioners use the system’s reporting and dashboard features to track issue resolution and balance workloads among the inspectors and work crews within a precinct.

Project Management and Reporting

The reporting and dashboard features of Microsoft Dynamics CRM also play an important role in planning and budgeting of projects within ITC itself. The organization uses an xRM-based portfolio project management system to manage its own workload and resources. Each new IT project is recorded as a ‘project’ in Microsoft Dynamics CRM, which uses custom workflows to assign tasks and project management responsibilities.

Directors can access dashboards through a web interface, and the application also produces monthly reports that show performance against active projects as well as projects in the pipeline, to facilitate budget and resource planning.

Benefits

The ability to efficiently and cost-effectively replace Harris County’s many disparate, standalone database applications with well-defined workflows and point solutions that adhere to a common, countywide data strategy and interoperate has significantly decreased the costs of government service delivery.

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*We can develop and deploy xRM-based point solutions in weeks now. That was unheard of just a few years ago.*

Willard Puffer
Information Systems Officer, Public Infrastructure Division
Harris County

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Fast Time to Value. By using Microsoft Dynamics CRM as a platform for rapid application development, Harris County ITC dramatically reduces the time required to implement new applications.

“We can develop and deploy xRM-based point solutions in weeks now. That was unheard of just a few years ago,” says Puffer. “And the interoperability of the technology means we can easily integrate with our mapping systems for visualization, take advantage of SQL Server Reporting Services for insight into our performance, and use existing IT investments to keep costs low.”

More Efficient Service Delivery. Harris County also uses Microsoft Dynamics CRM to enable individual agencies and departments to transform the way they deliver services, introducing efficiencies that save time and money.

“When we’re shifting agencies to the new platform, trying to convince them that Microsoft Dynamics CRM is the right platform for their application, it can be hard to convince people that the licensing costs will pay off in the long run,” says Pereira. “But if we can show them how much more efficiently they can run their processes, they almost always see the light. In the case of the sheriff’s office, we could show them that they’d save hundreds and hundreds of hours by only reviewing the qualified applications; they saved so much on the candidate selection management system that it was an easy decision.”


Better Insight. The Microsoft dynamics CRM platform also addresses the need for rapid access to data for making informed, sustainable decisions. By replacing the silos of data, applications, and systems that had slowed the flow of information, Microsoft Dynamics CRM enables more sophisticated reporting on performance of the county government and facilitating collaboration within and between internal departments and interaction with outside agencies and entities.

“The asset management system is the first of its kind in the history of the country,” says Puffer. “There was no single, unifying reporting system before this. Now, using Microsoft Dynamics CRM, we’ve bridged an accounting system, a road log system, and myriad spreadsheets, documents, and phone calls. The cost to try to do that before was incalculable. We have created a unifying platform that is transparent, easily used, graphically presented, and allows conversations across the enterprise to occur rapidly.”

Microsoft Dynamics CRM

Microsoft Dynamics CRM is a complete solution that gives you a 360-degree view of your constituents’ needs—from first contact through service fulfillment. Fast, flexible, and affordable, Microsoft Dynamics CRM streamlines important tasks, such as constituent services, grant writing, field inspections, investigation management, case management, call-center management, campus information sharing, emergency response, and much more.

Organizations realize higher levels of efficiency with improved workflow tools that enable cross-departmental collaboration and productivity. In addition to the core functionality available out-of-the-box, Microsoft Dynamics CRM is a robust platform to develop applications to meet the processes and needs of your organization and the departments within it.

For more information about Microsoft Dynamics, go to:

http://crm.dynamics.com/en-us/government

For more information about Microsoft Dynamics, go to:

www.microsoft.com/dynamics

For More Information

For more information about Microsoft products and services, call the Microsoft Sales Information Center at (800) 426-9400. In Canada, call the Microsoft Canada Information Centre at (877) 568-2495. Customers in the United States and Canada who are deaf or hard-of-hearing can reach Microsoft text telephone (TTY/TDD) services at (800) 892-5234. Outside the 50 United States and Canada, please contact your local Microsoft subsidiary. To access information using the World Wide Web, go to:

www.microsoft.com

For more information about Harris County, Texas visit the website at: http://www.harriscountytx.gov

This case study is for informational purposes only. MICROSOFT MAKES NO WARRANTIES, EXPRESS OR IMPLIED, IN THIS SUMMARY.
Customer Size: NA
Industry: State and Regional Government Agencies
Country or Region: United States
Solutions:
  • Microsoft Dynamics CRM 2011
  • Microsoft Office
  • Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007
  • Microsoft SQL Server 2008 R2
Organization Profile:

Harris County is a located in the US state of Texas within the Houston–Sugar Land–Baytown metropolitan area, which is the fifth largest metro area in the US.

Business Situation:

The Harris County ITC serves more than 80 teams, providing systems and support necessary for the daily operation. ITC needed to offer improved yet sustainable service delivery.

Benefits:

  • Fast Time to Value
  • More Efficient Service Delivery
  • Better Insight

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