When visualizing success stories for service-oriented architecture (SOA), more efficient processing of new inmates arriving at county jails and state and federal prisons probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind.
However, SOA is at the heart of business operations for Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), which designs, builds and manages prisons and detention centers throughout the U.S., and runs the fifth largest correctional system in the country. John Pfeiffer, vice president and CIO of CCA, points out that in the first two months after implementation of an SOA system that handles data collection on arriving prisoners, errors were reduced by 95 percent and processing time was reduced by 25 percent.
As is often the case in other industries, the SOA system replaced siloed data systems that required multiple manual entry of the same information, Pfeiffer said. "Oftentimes we were keying the data into three or four different systems, the same data."
The old information silos and re-keying of data resulted in both the correctional officers and the inmates spending more time in holding areas for processing than is consider a good correctional system practice. Repeated manual entry also resulted in errors that then made the accuracy of the data a prime suspect.
"Keying accuracy is the last thing that a correctional officer or a prisoner transportation officer is going to be worrying about, so the fewer times you have to do that, the more time is spent managing and caring for the prisoner," Pfeiffer said. "If you key the same information in three times the chances of a mistake are fairly significant."
Not only is it better for the prisoners if less time is spent getting their basic information into the system, but CCA's customers -- counties, states and the federal government -- now have more trust in the data gathered by the company.
The CCA SOA system, based on Oracle Corp. Fusion Middleware and developed by BIAS Corp, a certified partner in the Oracle PartnerNetwork, does more than just manage the initial processing of arriving prisoners, Pfeiffer said. It provides integration with CCA's governmental customers as well as financial institutions involved in the operations of the prisons and jails.
"We're a bit different than public sector correctional systems in that we have all different types of incarceration models," Pfeiffer explained. "We have federal prisons, we have state prisons, we have county jails and we have federal detention centers. So we in one system contain all the different business models and process types. As a result we've got to figure out a way to leverage common and standard business processes and technologies against very different business models."
The SOA implementation provides an integration hub that links a variety of formerly siloed systems as well as the government customers and business partners, he explained.
"What we've achieved with Oracle BPEL is a common information exchange hub through which we route data to other internal systems such as our J.D. Edwards accounting system to county information systems, state information systems, Wachovia Bank and Western Union," Pfeiffer said. "For example, with one county we're exchanging inmate names and photographs through the same hub where with a state we're exchanging inmate retail sales in the facility commissary, and through the same hub we're receiving funds from inmate families through Western Union and Wachovia Bank."
The SOA implementation not only links different types of data, but also completely different computer systems.
"All very different business processes, very, very uncommon connection points," the CCA CTO explained. "You've got a SQL-based county. You've got a mainframe situation with Western Union and our state customer. And at Wachovia, you've got open architecture distributed computing type system."
Asked why he chose SOA, Pfeiffer quips "Why SOA? Well what else would I do?"
Pressed to explain, he replies, "The opportunity we faced was to integrate our information and data and our business processes with those of our customers, to minimize non-value added work and maximize access to information. Obviously, an SOA architecture is the most facile way to do that in 2007."