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Teamwork Essential to New Corrections Contracts, State Control

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation successfully "cut over" late last year to a new host for its data, culminating months of complex work and bringing it a greater degree of control over its Strategic Offender Management System.

The state agency that runs California’s prisons and is currently responsible for the lives and health of about 125,000 adult offenders has successfully transitioned its data to a new vendor, while consolidating control.

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) began the complex process of unifying and digitizing paper files related to around 180,000 offenders in 2009, eventually awarding a contract to Prospecta to build and operate the system that would accomplish that. But the agreement was due to expire late last year so the agency decided to seek new vendor contracts for its Strategic Offender Management System (SOMS). Among the takeaways:

• The “easy answer,” said CDCR Chief Information Officer Russ Nichols, would have been for the agency to remain with its current vendor. Instead, the department worked closely with officials at the California Department of Technology (CDT) on three major procurements — because they wanted the state to take a more active role in SOMS’ electronic processes, which standardize and maintain offender information, risk and needs assessments, case management plans and other data.

“We are now the general contractor working with additional partners to provide services, tools, design, determining how that all works. We pulled that back into the state and have state employees actually in those roles now,” Nichols said. “We still use partner vendors and so that’s where CDT came to the table to help us do that.”

• The department worked with CDT on three swift procurements — none of which lasted longer than five months, said Marlon Paulo, CDT deputy director of statewide technology procurement. CDCR’s main objectives, he added, were “separation” of roles and functions from the original vendor; and supportability, maintenance and operations. However, the agencies also needed to determine which procurements had to go first, to prioritize them.

In the first of three major awards, on Aug. 31, 2018, CDCR formalized a SOMS hosting contract with Quest Media & Supplies Inc. In an email, Ike Dodson, CDCR public information officer, called the award “a crucially fast and efficient procurement made possible by CDT.” The contract, which runs through July 31, 2024, with the option of two, two-year extensions, is valued at nearly $24.2 million. CDCR’s second award on March 11, 2019, for the SOMS operation and maintenance contract, went to Red River Technology LLC. The contract runs through March 10, 2025, with two optional two-year extensions and is valued at more than $33.6 million. CDCR’s third award, on July 1, 2019, was for the SOMS Offender Management Software Contract, and it went to Marquis Software Development Inc. The contract runs through June 30, 2025, and is valued at nearly $22.6 million. The HiPER Solutions Group (HSG) of San Francisco was also brought onboard as “somewhat of an oversight vendor,” Nichols said, to help determine if anything was lacking as projects continued. The contract runs from February 2020 to February 2021 and is valued at $250,000.

The cut-over, the CIO said, came on Dec. 6, which was when the agency’s information transitioned to the Quest data center and “keys” were handed over to state officials and vendor representatives. The transition, he said, “went as smoothly as it possibly could.” But behind the scenes, state officials had been working long hours for months and they offered several lessons learned.

• Daily core team meetings at 8 a.m. helped in talking through risks from the previous day; agenda setting and timeline updates, said Kristin Montgomery, CDCR deputy director, adding: “Because it was so time critical, you couldn’t do it through email.”

Officials also held a standing weekly meeting so that if decisions or assistance were needed from Nichols or the leadership team, those types of issues could be discussed.

• A smooth cut-over was vital to CDCR, where offenders might face a lockdown if SOMS became unavailable. Nichols said one reason why things went well was because near the end of October after considerable contingency planning and discussions of a “Plan B” if the cut-over should happen to not work, officials “went all-in on Plan A,” removing any potential distractions of further developing alternate plans. Montgomery called the move transformational.

“It was just one of the best decisions that Russ and I could have made in this and it brought the teams together. And they just focused. It was one of the most pivotal things that happened in the project,” she said.

• Early engagement between all the parties was another crucial decision, Paulo said — but he also highlighted the use of Public Contract Code 6611, which allows negotiation with vendors. Utilizing this, he said, let officials clarify aspects of the projects with vendors — and define everything it would expect from vendors, while letting those companies be clear on their capabilities.

“It eliminated a lot of the assumptions, it eliminated any ambiguities that traditionally are experienced years after you contract award,” he said.

Theo Douglas is Assistant Managing Editor of Industry Insider — California.