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Innovation showcase

How the vision of one IT team brought modern analytics to the State of Maine

Now every expenditure in the government goes to a data analytics platform, where business users can manage their own analysis without worrying about data silos or waiting for IT.


By Jeff Erickson | July 2021


There is an art to moving government operations forward—even for a state as relatively nimble as Maine.

“Here in Maine, we think of ourselves as a small business, not a big conglomerate,” says Jeffrey Jordan, director of enterprise data services for the state’s Office of Information Technology. It’s that mindset that led Jordan’s team to modernize the way his team delivers real-time, data-backed decisions across the state’s government operations “to make our products more useful for all the people who work in the state of Maine.”

Jordan

Jeffrey Jordan is director of enterprise data services for the State of Maine’s Office of Information Technology.

Delivering on that promise meant maintaining the service level his government partners had come to expect, while simultaneously implementing a cloud-based solution that could improve on the disjointed legacy platform his team worked so hard to maintain. The result: a new system that supports real-time, data-backed decisions across the state’s government operations—and demonstrates how an entrepreneurial spirit can inspire excellence in a public sector organization.

An opportunity for change

Jordan’s team is renowned for serving up data to leaders—from finance to corrections to the controller’s office. That data, however, is extracted from data systems that are more than two decades old. That legacy system did not play well with more modern tools, so Jordan’s government partners would have to move data into their own tools for analysis. No amount of expertise, however, could make the process efficient. If, for example, the legislature wanted information, it could take days or weeks to respond with the data—which often was retrieved by a single staffer who understood the legacy system where the data resided.

Jordan saw an opportunity to make a leap.

He proposed a high-value IT project that could blaze a trail for how governments use data, but that posed little risk of disrupting civic life. “That bleeding-edge risk is a little easier to take when you know the state can keep running if [a new data warehouse is briefly unavailable],” says Jordan. “Especially when you compare the risk to the huge advantages of being able to do new things with your data.”

Jordan’s team would upgrade the state from a cobbled-together collection of systems to an Oracle Autonomous Data Warehouse on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure (OCI). This new system could draw data from an ever-widening set of adjacent systems—some new, some legacy—for accounting, budgeting, payroll, and other HR functions. The new data warehouse would make the data immediately available in Oracle Analytics Cloud. The team would then make Analytics Cloud available to decision-makers across the state government to access real-time data and build the dashboards as they saw fit.

“Our team is here to automate things and provide high quality and consistency,” Jordan says of the data his team provides to internal partners. “Our business people know more about which data to use for which reasons than I ever will.”

 

“From our small staff, we have to report on millions of dollars that are going out each quarter, and having the ability to analyze that data, integrate it with supplemental information, and perform QA on it has been incredibly valuable.”

Natalie Bragan, Senior Financial Analyst, State of Maine

Also important was deep familiarity with the cloud technology. “I could take people within our team that were experienced Oracle DBAs and give them their exact same tools in a cloud setting and that has really worked out for us,” he says. And because the data warehouse runs completely autonomously, Jordan’s team saves money on a third-party data management resource, “because with an autonomous database, there's just fewer things that a human being needs to do.” The savings fit with Jordan’s team’s overall goal: “We want to take every tax dollar we have and give services to the people, not spend it on administrative issues.”

Happy business partners

One year after the project went live, the feedback from business partners across the state is undeniable.

For example, in the controller’s office, monthly expenditure, revenue, and cash reports are now available daily for tens of thousands of individual programs within the state government. Generating the general ledger trial balance—which was previously a monthly process—can now be run any day, for any period, in a matter of seconds.

The cash balance report, which was formerly done once a week, is now available every day for ad-hoc and program-level queries. The state now can link financial data, HR data, and payroll data with budget data for a cross-functional view. Instead of a payroll certification process, employees use a single dashboard that gives decision-makers new transparency.

“The Oracle Cloud solution enables my entire financial reporting and accounting staff to refocus our efforts from transactional processing functions to trend analysis and much more valued and strategic reviews,” says State Controller Doug Cotnoir. “Now I can do reporting on the fly.”

State of Maine capitol building

The Maine State House, in Augusta, 57 miles northeast of Portland. A new project has improved data accessibility and analysis for government agencies across the state.

For Natalie Bragan, a senior financial analyst for the state, the system has streamlined day-to-day financial operations, including data reconciliation, cash flow planning and budgeting, and federal reporting for the Medicaid program. Previously, she and her colleagues were dealing with volumes of data. “We were spending too many hours just compiling and mining data, and then we didn't have a lot of time to really look at that data and analyze it,” she says.

Using Oracle Analytics Cloud, she has been able to create and share automated reports for the state’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). “From our small staff, we have to report on millions of dollars that are going out each quarter, and having the ability to analyze that data, integrate it with supplemental information, and perform QA on it has been incredibly valuable.”

Before, overtime and other monthly reports were manipulated manually, “so you needed to go back to the source data and verify its accuracy in order to get the monthly reporting package out by the 15th of the month,” says Mitch Boynton, deputy director of the Corrections Service Center. “Now with the Oracle Analytics dashboards, everything is available in real time.” Users have “self-service access to the analysis anytime they want.”

It’s successes like these, built on Oracle Cloud Infrastructure, that demonstrate how Jordan and his team have improved data accessibility and analysis across the state. Now every expenditure in the government ends up in the data analytics platform, where business users can do their own analysis without worrying about data silos or waiting for IT. Jordan says that his team’s approach to the problem is quintessentially Maine, but could be duplicated in any public sector environment.

“Our state motto, Dirigo, is a Latin phrase that Maine students learn to translate roughly as ‘I lead,’ and I think that describes the culture for the whole state,” he says. “This project shows we can help lead the country on important IT strategy.”

Photography: Jerry Monkman/Getty Images and Visions of America/UIG/Getty Images

jeff erickson

Jeff Erickson

Jeff Erickson is director of tech content at Oracle. You can follow him on Twitter at @erickson4.