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Digital Transformation At The State Of Louisiana: From Data Center To The Citizen

By Jason Bloomberg

September 14, 2017

A budget-constrained state government may be the last place you’d expect to find a top-to-bottom digital transformation that ranges from citizen-facing services all the way to the underlying network. Louisiana, however, is well on its way to such a transformation.

The Louisiana Enterprise Architecture (EA) project is modernizing and standardizing IT services across the state’s 16 government agencies, leveraging a best-of-breed technology strategy that includes software-defined data centers, service-oriented architecture, and single sign-on for state citizens as well as government employees.

From Hodgepodge to Service-Oriented Architecture

The project began in 2014 and focused initially on improving the state’s Medicaid Eligibility and Enrollment System for nearly 1.5 million Medicaid recipients.

It soon became clear, however, that the new architecture could provide benefit across the entire state government. “The deputy CIO challenged us at the eleventh hour to look at other solutions,” explained Mike Allison, Chief Technology Officer at the State of Louisiana.

Transforming the dated Medicare and Medicaid enrollment system became a springboard for a new architecture – a move that the state desperately needed, as the preexisting technology was a mess. According to Matthew Vince, Director of Project Management at Louisiana Office of Technology Services (OTS), the starting point for the EA project was “not Agile, lots of building from scratch, lots of logins.”

The solution was to implement service-oriented architecture (SOA), an approach to organizing diverse technology resources to provide a set of flexible services that multiple agencies could leverage. These citizen and employee-facing services, in fact, were the unifying principle across the architecture.

At the core of the SOA implementation: the webMethods Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) from Software AG. “The ESB is a critical piece,” Vince explained. “We also have SOAP and REST APIs, and the ESB is acting as an API gateway.”

The choice of webMethods was part of a comprehensive best-of-breed strategy that aligned with federal guidance on architectural best practice in the Medicaid Information Technology Architecture (MITA) from The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the US Department of Health and Human Services. Following MITA, in fact, is a prerequisite to receiving enhanced federal funding for Medicaid-related IT services.

MITA calls for SOA implementations based on common commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components like webMethods. “We always have the bear of vendor lock-in,” explained Derek Williams, Director of Data Center Operations at OTS. “So we decided to go modular, best-of-breed. Expose everything as APIs on the bus. It keeps vendors honest.”

Implementing SOA, in fact, enabled Louisiana to architecturally separate the underlying technology infrastructure from the shared services it exposes and the business applications that consume them – putting the state in a leadership position nationwide.

Louisiana’s Software-Defined Data Centers

To support its SOA deployment, state IT leadership decided that it required a next-generation datacenter architecture to achieve the joint goals of security, high availability, and cost allocation.

At the core of this architecture: hyper-converged infrastructure servers from Nutanix, and software-defined networking via VMware NSX. “We looked to virtualize everything,” Allison explained. “Adding VMware NSX was the solution that led to the software-defined data center.”

Louisiana’s software defined data center (SDDC) strategy enabled them to provision next-generation software service and compute capacity to State programs, and also aligns with MITA as well as with recommendations from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO).

Proper implementation of an SDDC requires automation of infrastructure management tasks, and OTS is extending its best-of-breed strategy to automation technology as well. “There’s lots of automation in the data center,” Vince said. “We have Puppet, some Chef, and [Red Hat] Ansible. We still have some work to do.”

Single Sign-On: Key to the Customer Experience

One of the most obvious challenges OTS faced as it put together its EA strategy was the fact that every agency had its own separate way of managing users and passwords. Citizens might have to create one login to pay property tax, say, and other to obtain a license. State employees, furthermore, were in a similar fix.

The OTS team quickly realized it had to address such a fragmented customer experience, so it created a central platform that all agencies could share. As a result, each citizen can now use a single identity and password to access services across all agencies.

To support identity and access management (IAM) across the state, OTS turned to CA Identity Manager and Single Sign-On (SSO) solutions from CA Technologies. “It starts with SSO. One account to log into all systems, internal or external,” Vince said. “CA tools provided the right mix, the right fit at the time. Now we’re growing it statewide.”

IAM and SSO are so essential to the running of state agencies, in fact, that OTS realizes these services must always be running in ‘active-active’ mode, where separate, identical implementations are always operational in the state’s two data centers, so if one has an issue, the other can take over with no loss of service.

Only the ESB shares such a stringent high-availability requirement. “Two core services must be active-active: the ESB from Software AG and IAM/SSO from CA,” Allison explained. “We’ve taken a lot of painstaking time to make sure these are always available.”

In addition to its two data centers, OTS is also extending SSO to the cloud. “We’re extending CA IAM to [Amazon.com] AWS to ensure the end-user experience is seamless,” Allison continued.

Digital Transformation: Both Technological and Organizational

In addition to the state’s comprehensive technology transformation, it has also been transforming its organization as well. OTS expects the introduction of its next-generation platform to drive such change, as OTS shifts to an IT service delivery culture with commensurate resource alignment that IT leadership expects will drive the ROI of the initiative.

In fact, the EA project overall as well as the SOA and SDDC elements that support it give the state an important win, not just for Louisiana but for state governments at large.

At its core: how the state delivers services to its citizens. “Dickie [Richard Howze, CIO] and Neal [Neal Underwood, Deputy CIO] are transferring OTS to a service delivery model,” Allison explained. “We’re replacing agency decisions about technology to decisions about business services they need to consume.”

Furthermore, as with all successful enterprise digital transformations, providing value to citizens depends upon end-to-end change. “We’ve implemented support services from end-user computing to application development to the infrastructure stack,” Allison added.

There are many moving parts to such a transformation, from the best-of-breed technology strategy to the organizational change necessary – but if the State of Louisiana can do it, there’s no reason why any enterprise, public or private sector, cannot accomplish the same goals.

 

This article was written by Jason Bloomberg from Forbes and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.