EAI: Bringing Law And Order To King County

In greater Seattle, more than a dozen law enforcement agencies serve 1.7 million people. Those agencies annually book about 70,000 suspects, of which 8,000 or so end up being prosecuted, says Alain Dias, director of strategic services at Interlink Group, a solution provider chosen by King County to help with this project.

ANATOMY OF A SOLUTION>> COMPANY: Interlink Group, Denver
>> FOCUS: Data integration and infrastructure pilot project
>> PROBLEM and SOLUTION: King County Office of Information Resource Management needed to integrate diverse data sources among several agencies
>> PRODUCTS and SERVICES USED: Microsoft's BizTalk Server, Host Integration Server, SQL Server and Active Directory, as well as connections to mainframe systems
> Integration is a priority at state and local government across the United States.
> Strong IT governance is needed to address conflicting interests of agencies.
> IT staff and users must be educated in integration infrastructure for effective deployment.

Denver-based Interlink, which has local offices in Bellevue, Wash., played a big role in the Jail Inmate Look-up Service (JILS), aimed at centralizing inmate data to better locate and identify suspects and repeat offenders. In the process, the company learned important lessons for dealing with the interrelated world of crime-fighting.

Today, when the county books and jails suspects, relevant information must flow through a maze of not-necessarily-linked systems. "The challenge for us with the initial implementation was around integrating a mainframe system, originally built in 1968," Dias said. "They'd upgraded it in the '80s. It's a node that interacts with a state system, called Access. That, in turn, integrates with the [National Crime Information Center] and the FBI."

This brings us to lesson No. 1: No customer will rip and replace old infrastructure that still works. It must be integrated into the solution. Interlink's challenge was compounded by disparate user constituencies. "There are 15 agencies in King County. The LSJ-I project focuses on eight, including the King County Sheriff's office, the public defender's office, the jail and the prosecutor's office," Dias said.

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That meant Interlink had to connect six systems using products such as Microsoft Host Integration Server (HIS) for mainframe connections and BizTalk Server for linking applications.

Indeed, Interlink's experience with BizTalk helped it win this project over competitors such as Avanade.

"We've had two projects with them now," said Trever Esko, program manager for the King County Office of Information Resource Management. "In the first, we bought BizTalk and used [Interlink] as the initial integration partner. Now we've re-engaged them to do the architectural design for our solution."

Interlink pitched a proposal in February 2002, proof of concept took place in March 2003, JILS implementation began that October, and the system went live in April 2004.

Lesson No. 2: Teamwork is essential. Interlink pulled in Microsoft Consulting Services to help on some aspects. Dias said the solution provider views MCS as more partner than rival.

Lesson No. 3: Know how to work across bureaucracies.

"Look, the technology is complex. EAI is new stuff, but it's also crucial to deal with internal IT groups who are challenged to use the new stuff," Dias said. "We cut across two or three different networks so we had to sit down with all the admins and make sure they understood what our application does. So if they update a router, they have to be aware of [the impact]," Dias said.

Given the massive post-Sept. 11 security push, Interlink hopes to apply its experience elsewhere. It is bidding a similar job in California.

A final lesson: Despite the billions pledged by the federal government to bolster security, it's taking a long time for that money to trickle down to localities.

"From locating, booking and referral of [suspects], King County is now saving money," Dias said. "That's the real driver."