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How Microsoft Dynamics Allowed PA to Speed Application Development

You may know Microsoft Dynamics as an enterprise resource planning and customer relationship management application. But for the state of Pennsylvania, the product has become much more. In a time of constrained resources, we're using it to speed application development. Rapid application development allows us to deliver applications to our lines of business quickly, while also reducing costs.

My first experience with Dynamics came in 2007 while I was CIO at the Pennsylvania Office of the Attorney General. We wanted to create a single repository for tracking interactions with constituents. Back then, it was called Microsoft CRM and, as the name implies, it was marketed primarily as a customer relationship management solution. A few of our staff members attended training, and I recall receiving an e-mail about how we could use this tool for a lot more than its stated purpose.

The timing couldn't have been better. We had just launched four new applications for our intelligence unit that had been built in traditional C+ programming. Not only had it taken a long time — about six months with requirement gathering, meeting with end users and so forth — but the applications were adequate at best. When the staff returned from training, they rebuilt all four applications in less than two weeks. By early 2011, we had rebuilt or created about 50 different applications for investigations, human resources and finance. We were able to reduce our development time by 70 to 75 percent, the staff liked working with the application and, best of all, the end users actually liked what we had built for them.

In addition to significantly reducing development time, Dynamics relieves staff of some of the more mundane aspects of building an application. For example, you can build your database on the fly, rather than have a database administrator prepare data tables and make sure they relate to each other in the right way. This allows the development team to focus on other things, such as the interface and business logic, which ultimately results in a better product for the end user.

A Place in the Program

In January, I became the CIO for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Like many other states, we are faced with the challenge of delivering high-quality IT services to agencies and citizens with less funding and, in some cases, a reduced staff. We are currently evaluating the feasibility of using Dynamics to address long-standing application development needs in a short timeframe. In addition to leveraging Dynamics within the Office for Information Technology for the applications that we support, we are looking into standing it up as a shared service to reduce startup costs for agencies.

There's also the potential for Dynamics users to share application and coding resources. For example, many agencies need applications to help them automate and manage their grant processes. We could build a core capability in Dynamics and make it available to agencies to customize as needed to meet their specific business requirements. Because they would be starting from the same baseline, there would be consistency in the products and tools they use, as well as the overall look, feel and design of the applications they develop. There are also opportunities to use Dynamics as a platform to update, consolidate and standardize old applications and eliminate the use of ad hoc database applications built using tools such as MS Access.

As agencies and citizens demand more, better and faster applications to do just about everything, the ability to quickly build and launch applications that are responsive to the customer's needs is critical. No one tool or solution can do it all, but sometimes one solution can do a lot more than you initially expected.

Sep 30 2011

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