Secure Immediate Access to Real Property Data Needed For the US Department of Energy, keeping track of real estate holdings is no easy matter. Consider that department owns some:
10,000 buildings, with over 126 million square feet of space, valued at $3.5 billion.
7,000 other structures valued at $7.5 billion.
3 million acres of land valued at $360 million.
3,700 trailers valued at $162 million.
DOE needs complete and accurate information about all the department's real property holdings to manage facilities prudently. In addition, the department must meet extensive reporting requirements established by the Federal Real Property Council (FRPC), General Services Administration (GSA), Office of Management and Budget (OMB), and Congress.
To be a responsible steward, DOE has maintained a Facilities Information Management System (FIMS) database since the early 1980s. Since then, the legacy system has evolved through many iterations, gaining size and popularity.
As the system grew, keeping accurate and complete records became increasingly challenging. "Best business practices, common sense, and requirements-based … budgeting … dictate that we examine accurate and complete information regarding our holdings," says a DOE memo mandating FIMS improvements.
Client/Server System Raised Costs, Reduced Accuracy, Constrained Users Three hundred and fifty users at more than 100 field sites had come to rely on FIMS. Employees and contractors wanted faster access to the wealth of facilities data accumulated over the years, as well as better procedures for producing reports and updating information.
For people who weren't everyday users, ease of access was critical. They didn't want to install software on their computers just to retrieve facilities data.
"As FIMS' user community grew, the client/server system's limits became more constraining," says Mark Gordy, senior project lead for SAIC, a DOE contractor. "Installing software on user PC's and disparities in network connectivity raised system costs and maintenance requirements, while restricting access."
PowerBuilder, EAF and EAServer Eliminate Cost and Risk of Rewriting Code By 2003, DOE was eager to migrate FIMS to the Web as rapidly as possible. The department rejected the idea of a total system rewrite as too costly and time consuming.
DOE had built the most recent version of FIMS using Sybase's market leading PowerBuilder. Geared for data-driven enterprise applications, PowerBuilder let DOE build an intense, multi-tiered system, with heavy use of data exchange, DataWindows®, and client validation to meet government security requirements. Sybase's EAServer powered the application.
Transferring existing FIMS code to the Web was critical to meet budget and schedule requirements and minimize risk. To ensure a trouble-free and cost-effective migration, DOE hired Cynergy Systems, a software application development consulting firm specializing in migrating PowerBuilder applications to the Web. With Cynergy's help, DOE got a new Web-based FIMS running smoothly in less than a year.
All of FIMS' DataWindow logic flows to EAServer through Cynergy's Enterprise Application Framework (EAF). Written in PowerBuilder and available from Cynergy free of charge, the framework helps developers readily reapply PowerBuilder code.
PowerBuilder-EAServer Conversion "Quick and Painless" "Since PowerBuilder builds flexible applications for Web, as well as desktop and ‘occasionally connected,' users, the FIMS' conversion was quick and painless," says Cynergy's Gil Pina. "90% of the data presentation logic in FIMS Web comes from PowerBuilder's patented DataWindows, and we succeeded in keeping most of the 75 DataWindows and several tiers of business logic in tact. No one at DOE needed to become Web or Java experts.
Reusing PowerBuilder's DataWindows was "a real timesaver," says Pina. "PowerBuilder is well suited to Web migrations, and we saved roughly 6 months and countless headaches by not rewriting code."
Sybase's EAServer, which is 100% standards-based, fully supported the transition. "EAServer can power any Web site, portal, or Internet application," says Pina. "Sybase's application server allows access from browsers and wireless devices and can execute secure enterprise Web services that help DOE react rapidly to changing federal requirements."
Cynergy built a customized module integrating with J2EE and EAServer security to lock down sensitive information. FIMS Web is further secured through a Secure Sockets Layer.
DOE employees and contractors at headquarters and field offices use FIMS Web to generate all government-required reports. The system also provides an accurate and responsive tool to inventory and manage real property assets.
Employees Enthusiastic About Web Access "Since we deployed FIMS Web in July 2004, the system has gained visibility, and the Department of Energy is relying on FIMS more and more," says Gordy. "Everyone knows that if you want to find out what DOE owns or how much we spend on rent, the place to go is FIMS."
After more than a year in production, "FIMS online has been just fine," says Gordy. "User response has been quite favorable. People are happy we went to the Web, and adapted well."
DOE personnel have better information on which to base decisions, since they can update FIMS data from any Internet-connected PC. Examples of some of the typical facility information found in FIMS:
Acquisition and Improvement cost
MARS Financial asset designation
Historical data on real property disposition
Facility Condition Index
Users can electronically upload and download FIMS data and create ad-hoc queries using Microsoft Access.
PowerBuilder Supports Demanding Modifications Easily Since deployment, the system has been easy to modify to meet new government requirements, says Gordy. "We've enhanced the business process with minimal pain," he says.
Looking ahead, bigger changes are in the offing to meet more rigorous reporting standards from the GSA and OMB. "PowerBuilder and EAServer have all the tools we need to meet the new requirements," says Gordy. "That's a big plus for us."
More enhancements planned include user interfaces that:
Allow people with no database skills to produce reports.
Enable graphical queries using a point-and-click US map to select a state and drill down to view local assets.