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Public Administration Code Release Communities: Dossier ONSFA

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Public Administration Code Release Communities: Dossier ONSFA
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Project contact person: John Daugherty, Chief Information Officer. Montana Department of Corrections Information and Business Technology. United States.

Brief description of the project

The National Consortium for Offender Management System (Consortium) is a joint board coalition organized for the purpose of developing, maintaining, and enhancing a comprehensive electronic database system (Offender System) for managing all aspects of offender incarceration, supervision, and rehabilitation among the participating members. The consortium is responsible for maintaining a standardized core module of the Offender System set for its members and assuring multi-jurisdiction compatibility to facilitate the sharing of enhancements, data integration, data sharing, and mutual support.

The Offender Management System software follows national standards for its functional specifications. A list of today’s available components include:

  • Institutional services

  • Field & community services (parole and probation)

  • Work centers Services

  • Medical service

  • Offender Management Programming

  • Parole Commission

Target organization

US State Corrections Facilities, or state prisons. These are operated at the state level of jurisdiction. These requirements differ from jails, or those facilities that house offenders at a local level.

Starting situation

The area of Corrections Enterprise Applications is a specialized and expensive vertical market. As an example, in 2009 State of California Corrections contracted to have a $250M COTS (Commercial Off The Shelf) application customized and implemented. Additionally, the support for this type of application, typically, runs to 20% of the initial cost per support year ($50M/year in California's case).

State corrections departments are seldom at the top of any state funding lists. As a general rule, the subset of corrections information technology is very low in funding priority. Given this background, there has consistently been a drive among state corrections departments to find viable alternatives to a COTS system.

This backdrop of very expensive COTS, the potential for cost-sharing through collaborative development, and the attractive aspects of Open Source technologies led to the formation of NCOMS.

Approach and proposed solution

During the 1990s the Utah Department of Corrections developed an Offender Tracking system (O-Track). In the late 1990s, Utah licensed this application for use by the Alaska Department of Corrections and NMCD. In addition to customizing this application to meet individual state requirements, the 3 organizations began a collaborative effort to further expand the functionality of the O-Track system. In early 2000, the Colorado Department of Corrections and Idaho Department of Corrections began participating, and by 2004 several other states, including South Carolina Department of Corrections and Montana Department of Corrections, were also participating. During this time, the states formalized their relationship by forming a new consortium named National Consortium of Offender Management Systems (NCOMS).

NCOMS became an independent consortium with a joint powers agreement in which the system source code no longer belonged to one state. The O-Track system is now the official property of NCOMS. Within NCOMS, the member states reviewed and adopted a new architectural standard that aligns with Corrections Technology Association (CTA) and Global Justice Standards consistent with best practices in applications development and adherence to established NCOMS coding standards.

It is important to note that there are several implementations of the NCOMS system. New members choose their version based on which system most closely fits their needs. Development then is both collaborative and also coordinated, with different members working on different aspects of the system. Each member state is able to meet their independent program business requirements and needs by creating their own branch of the code, as applicable.

Summary of technologies and project tools used

The platform is largely built using free and open source tools. These include:

  • Java

  • Eclipse/MyEclipse

  • HTML/Javascript

  • Tomcat/JBoss - JVM

  • SP - Java Server Pages

  • Supported O/S s include- Linux, Unix, Microsoft

  • Framework, Dashboard, Source Forge Structs/Springs/Hibernate

  • Jasper Reports

Community governance model

The components of the NCOMS governance structure and processes include:

  • A Joint Powers Agreement which holds the IP of the software with the consortium.

  • A set of By Laws to guide the consortium.

  • Elected Officers

  • Governs through Membership; restricted to government only, no fee required

  1. Executive Member one per state may vote
  2. Associate Member may participate in any meetings but does not vote.
  • Subcommittees (Technology, Business, Special Purpose).

  • Conducts business through phone conferences, email and face to face meetings

Community operating model

There are approximately 15 states participating in the consortium, including many who are in the process of evaluating adoption.

The NCOM members experiences, issues, solutions, lessons learned, and successes are shared with the other members through three channels; formal bi-monthly and monthly conference calls, direct one-on-one communication between state technical and business teams, and annual face-to-face communications at national conferences.

The bi-monthly calls are technology and development focused among the participating states. This forum allows for collaborative technological goal-setting, standards creation, architecture frameworks discussions, and broad term user community issues.

NCOMS members consider value of these tactical lessons learned is immense, preventing a costly missteps by any one state's technical approach and providing roadmaps for the NCOMS community. These regular meetings also allow for each state to anticipate timing of development cycles so that they can allocate their development resources (or dollars for outside help) to coincide with the delivery of a code set from another state.

Collectively, these individual state roadmaps come together to form the NCOMS path, creating more rapid time-to-market, quicker individual state customization, and substantial cost savings.

Monthly Membership calls are leadership focused, consider leveraging budgets cycles, legislative trends, developing trust, and re-emphasizing the importance of communication and collaboration. In many ways, these may be construed as Board meetings, with strategic direction set and maintained.

Members identify their own internal or external resources for developing or enhancing the systems. Current two vendors provide related services for the NCOMS product.

Model of knowledge transfer

NCOMS members have access to extensive documentation for the system. This includes:

  • EZ-Guides and illustrated Guides

  • Training Manuals

  • BT-Computer Based Training

  • Online HelpToday

Training model

Computer based training is available as well as on line manuals and other documentation. The Consortium does not provide on site training but several vendors are qualified to provide additional services in this area.


Occurs as part of the governance process as outlined above.

Tools used to create the community

The NCOMS portal was created to inform the general public and provide a secure login area with user forums and threaded discussion. Sourceforge was used for a time but did not meet the project’s needs.

NCOMS members also regularly speak at government and industry events to promote their project and encourage broader participation.

Existing industry associations such as CTA played heavily in the creation of the community. Designed in part to facilitate interagency discussion, they provided NCOMS members and officers a platform to develop the NCOMS community, service as a sounding board for creating a technology road map, as well as provide critical data standards

Change management

Not identified


Today the community is comprised member states and two commercial entities, along with the open source community that supports its underlying technology. State include:

Entre los Estados miembros se incluyen: Alaska, Idaho, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, Utah, Colorado, Kansas,Montana, Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wyoming.

Among companies are AnalyzeSoft, Inc y Dataman USA.


Members report cost savings and improved functionality.




The following paragraph describes the NCOMS Investment / Cost comparators analysis provided by AnalyzeSoft.

As a baseline, true enterprise Offender Management Systems cost between $10M - $250M as a COTS. Even then, there is no guarantee of success (one Western state invested $70M in such a system and then shelved the project).

In a buy vs. build comparator, the NCOMS approach of leveraging other states' work brings the initial investment down to $1M - $5M.

As part of the build, an Open Source approach saves – in cost avoidance of development investment alone – between $100K and $500K, depending upon which proprietary software is utilized.

Ongoing support costs of a COTS system is typically 20% of the initial investment per year. In addition, the proprietary software platform typically runs (depending upon the technology) between $100K and $1M in enterprise licensing costs.

With an Open Source solution, the ongoing support is going to be approximately the same 20% per year, although with a much lower initial cost baseline from which to work. With the NCOMS Open Source platform/architecture there are no licensing costs.

Key aspects to success

Data Standards. NCOMS had a large advantage in implementing the collective vision of sharing the development of an Offender Management System: the CTA (Corrections Technology Association) Standards. These 17 Standards, developed with a US Department of Justice (DOJ) Grant, allowed for instant coalescing among member states. While each state does, indeed, have its unique requirements, the creation of a common framework within the CTA Standards was of enormous benefit. These standards are not technological in nature – they are business-driven standards. In collective application development, having a feature set that is agreeable all was a key success factor. The CTA Standards can be found at: http://www.correctionstech.org/committeesStandards.php

While the CTA Standards crafted a feature framework within which to operate, the crafting of a data exchange model was a continuing issue for the project until the creation by the federal government of National Information Exchange Model (NIEM). This federal model allowed, once again, for a common platform for future data modeling – thereby eliminating among the NCOMS membership debates over data formatting.

Continuity of Personnel. NCOMS has a number of key members, including strong champions, which have been with the project since inception. In the absence of solid infrastructure or an overall project management resource, this plays an important role in keeping the project moving forward and on track.

Commercial Partners. Several IT companies have developed expertise with the NCOMS system and understand open source well. One in particular was instrumental in encouraging broader participation and assisted in getting the word out. Both companies have made NCOMS part of their business plan.

Lessons learned

Standards are emphasized as a best practice. In addition to CTA and NIEM, NCOMS also adheres to standards published by the Association of State Correctional Administrators (ASCA) and Map Standard Operating Procedures to Application (SOP).

The project has learned that creating a fully integrated enterprise system has actually been a detriment to adoption by many states that were not ready to replace their entire and often very expensive system but would opt for using some subset to add to their current system. NCOMS is now “modularizing” the system so members can pick and choose from a set of functions or more easily customize them to suit their own needs.

Barriers encountered in the implementation of the community

Data standards were a barrier to forming a cohesive community until several sets of standards were created by an external body.

Barriers in the maintenance of the community

Funding of a shared or coordinated services has been a challenge. Each state can invest in the software itself, but none can justify making investments in infrastructure to support or scale the project. A prime example of this arose recently; due to a change in leadership for one of the member states, the state agency which had volunteered to maintain the consortium web site went down initially unnoticed, and it took weeks to regain communications/cooperation to put it back up

Another challenge arose in 2008 when the US economy floundered and most state agencies cut their travel budgets. A useful practice had been twice yearly meetings in person for the Executive Members typically the State Department of Corrections Chief Information Officer. Although teleconferences continue, the value of the established best practice of face-to-face meetings may impact the cohesion of the community.


NCOMS was a very early entrant in inter-administration, multi-state open source collaboration. It worked without a formal governance model for six years and would recommend starting with one. Project members have expressed that the effectiveness and long term viability of the project could be greatly improved if funding were made available for shared infrastructure (web hosting, common code repository, conference call bridges)

Executive summary of the case study

NCOMS was a pioneering effort that required public administration managers to take risks with new technology. In the agency operating environment where many other public programs will take precedent in the budget process, NCOMS members have learned to leverage the power of collaboration to modernize their systems. Today, more prisons are managed with NCOMS software than any other single proprietary vendor.

Although at least one member state has chosen to keep software development in house, the participation of two commercial vendors in the ecosystem has been critical in broadening the community by making a set of services for the project available to state agencies who would not be able/would not elect to resource the work internally.