Linux Gets Hawaiis Records House in Order

Case Study: The Aloha state's commerce and consumer officials turn to open source for a major financial data access fix.

Lester Nakamura tries to pride himself on always keeping an open mind. But when he went searching for a long-term solution to the state of Hawaiis bookkeeping needs, Nakamura said he quickly concluded that an open-source system was the only choice.

Up to that time—in 2002—the states Department of Commerce & Consumer Affairs had labored under a financial analysis program called FAMIS (Family Accounting and Management Information System)—a rickety COBOL application that could generate only a fixed set of budgetary reports, which were updated monthly and then printed out for state officials for review.

Reports routinely took weeks to assemble. If anyone requested a nonstandard report, a COBOL programmer had to write a new program to generate it.

In a state that prides itself for service and hospitality, "this was not a user-friendly system," said Nakamura, administrator for Hawaiis Information and Communication Services Division, in Honolulu.

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In 2002, exasperated state officials turned to the Linux operating system to change that. They wanted all budget and expenditure data in one data mart, with a front-end application that lets users download data to their PCs and crunch numbers as they see fit.

Moreover, they did not want to shackle themselves for another decade or so to a proprietary system such as FAMIS. An open-source platform would offer stability yet still evolve with the states needs.

"We wanted to use as much of the resources as we already had in place, and where we had to buy infrastructure we wanted it to be as economical as possible," said Wayne Sasaki, a branch manager in the Department of Accounting and General Services who worked on the project with Nakamura. "So we started talking about Linux. The goal with Linux was cost."

To manage the technical aspects of the project, Hawaii turned to eWorld Enterprise Solutions Inc., a systems integrator and consulting company in Honolulu that had helped the state with other IT implementations in the past.

Kris Hansen, eWorlds chief technology officer, readily admitted that he is "a fan" of Linux and endorsed its use early in the project, even though eWorld had never before installed Linux on a mainframe.

"One thing that really impressed me about it was that its just Linux," Hansen said. "Once you do all the mainframe partition configuration and all that stuff, its just [Novell Inc.s] SuSE Linux."

eWorld and the state began working on the project in July 2002, racing to complete implementation by that December, before the two cabinet-level officials overseeing it saw their terms expire.

Hansen and his team tackled the underlying database architecture; Nakamura, Sasaki and other state officials helped define the front-end user application they wanted, which eWorld then developed.

"It was a real challenge for them to work with the [old] application," Hansen said. "They really just couldnt get to the kind of information they wanted."

Faced with such a tight deadline, Hansen took a pragmatic approach to the systems architecture: a database layer, a warehouse manager layer to cleanse data into useful form and the application layer.

Next Page: Linux saves the day and Big Blue lends a hand.