No Government Secrets for This Swap

States cut out data duplication through private components exchange.

As the use of software components gains more clout in the enterprise, state governments also are getting into the act through a newly conceived private exchange for components.

Backed by an organization of CIOs from the 50 states, the National Software Component Exchange will allow states to share software components with one another. The Georgia Technology Authority, which is spearheading the project, awarded a bid this month to ComponentSource Inc. to set up and run the exchange.

State officials said the ability to share their development work with other states carries with it both time and cost savings.

"For a long time weve recognized that what we do from state government to state government has a lot of similarities," said Larry Singer, CIO for the state of Georgia and chairman of the National Association of State CIOs subcommittee on component reuse.

Opportunities for reuse include the processes used to issue drivers licenses, track social services cases, and manage corrections and felony data. So far, states have been duplicating one anothers work by developing these systems on their own.

"The money we waste is just horrendous," said Wendy Rayner, CIO for the state of New Jersey, in Trenton.

New Jersey recently spent millions of dollars building a comprehensive system to keep track of environmental records. Rayner said New Jersey plans to offer its work to other states, which should shave the cost of building such a system down to a couple of hundred thousand dollars.

Others savings can be counted in hours rather than dollars, state officials said.

"States traditionally have taken a long time to procure and a long time to deliver. Also, states tend to be very risk-averse," Singer said. Using proven components from another state system "is about the ultimate risk reduction."

Some states already have reaped financial benefits from reusing components on their own.

When all states were told of a mandate to implement a new National Crime Information Center system in the mid-1990s, officials in Missouri learned the FBI was building such a system using software Missouri already had.

By leveraging the development work of the FBI and then tweaking it to meet Missouris specific needs, the state saved roughly $122,000 and 45 person-months of development time, said Gerry Wethington, Missouris CIO, in Jefferson City.

Like their counterparts in the private sector, government officials said component reuse makes particular sense during tight economic times.

"Every state is faced with declining budgets and an inability to grow staff," Wethington said. "There isnt a need to grow staff if you can take advantage of technology like this."

New Jersey has long awaited such an exchange, Rayner said.

"I feel quite a mandate to do this. Hopefully [development] will be less costly and more efficient," she said. "This will help me help my customers and do my job."

Hurdles that prevented component reuse among states in the past no longer exist, Singer said.

Previously, the differences that existed from state to state, ranging from platforms to presentation, were woven into the applications, making it hard to reuse those applications. But the advent of object-oriented programming and technology such as Java and Extensible Markup Language changed that and made it easier to separate elements unique to a given state, Singer said.

"We were stuck in an environment where we had to build very large, very complex applications one at a time," said Singer, in Atlanta.

Also hampering reuse was that the 50 states werent a big enough customer pool to attract interest from software vendors. State officials said they hope giving vendors access to the exchange could boost interest from the private sector along with the possibility of spreading reuse into municipal and other levels of government.

CIOs from various states are getting together in upcoming weeks to iron out the final details of the open-ended contract with ComponentSource. The group is considering whether to charge fees for participating in the exchange, Singer said, although he expects most of ComponentSources revenue to be generated from states buying components from third-party vendors.

ComponentSource, based in Kennesaw, Ga., will host the exchange and provide each state with the ability to publish components and access components from other participants. The exchange will be rolled out this summer, with a final implementation ready in September.

"An open-marketplace approach to software reuse is far more apt to succeed," said Bill Wilkerson, chief financial officer of ComponentSource.

"Well extend our current infrastructure into each state that opts to do this, and well offer training and support," Wilkerson added.