Government Technology

Cashing In

December 2, 2004 By

Sometimes getting what you need means building it yourself.

When the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) needed a system to streamline the complex right-of-way process, officials searched extensively for existing software that could meet their requirements.

VDOT's Right of Way and Utilities staff is responsible for appraisal and acquisition of property rights necessary for construction and improvement of state roads, adjustment of affected utilities, and relocation of displaced homes and businesses. VDOT had an IT system to help perform these activities, but by the early 1990s, that system was limping along. VDOT considered enhancing the old system, buying a new system or building one from scratch.

"Right of way is a unique business, and no one had anything on the shelf we could buy," said C.L. Griggs Jr., information technology section manager in VDOT's Right of Way and Utilities Management Division. "We looked into enhancing what we had and realized that technology had advanced so much we would just be throwing good money after bad."

VDOT decided to build a new right-of-way system itself. Within months it organized a steering committee and user group committee, and issued an RFP to identify a company that could help implement a new system. The agency awarded the contract to BearingPoint, and the Right of Way and Utilities Management System (RUMS) went live in August 1999.

RUMS helps right-of-way and utilities agents generate, customize, store and retrieve hundreds of forms, letters and other documentation; automate the assignment and reassignment of work to division agents; track legal processes; and track the maintenance and disposal of surplus properties.

Using RUMS, VDOT right-of-way managers can quickly see the status of highway projects, along with key deadlines for right-of-way and utilities transactions. When necessary, managers can use the system to reassign agents to meet deadlines.

Putting RUMS on the Shelf

Like VDOT, the California Department of Transportation (CalTrans) sought a system that could manage its right-of-way issues. In spring 2000, CalTrans contacted Griggs to inquire about RUMS. Although CalTrans never purchased RUMS, the inquiry made Griggs and other agency managers realize RUMS was potentially marketable.

Soon after, VDOT decided to offer RUMS licensing agreements to other states. Once the decision was made, putting the process in place was straightforward. The state already had intellectual property documentation in place allowing it to sell software. Griggs then copyrighted RUMS and drew up a licensing agreement, and VDOT was ready for business.

"It didn't require a lot of effort, it's just that it's never been done before," he said. "We'd reached a point in the road and needed to know where the next point was, so we'd have to find someone to guide us there. Now that I know the road, it would be fairly easy to do it all over again."

Today, VDOT sells the rights to use and adapt the RUMS source code for $250,000 -- or 10 percent of the cost of the system developed with BearingPoint. VDOT plans to put the money back into Virginia's transportation programs.

Griggs believes what VDOT is doing with RUMS will be a catalyst in changing the way government agencies view intellectual property. Traditionally, he said, Virginia -- like most other states -- develops various systems, uses them internally and keeps them to itself.

"If someone found out about a system we had in the past, we'd either give it to them or not share with them at all. We'd keep using it until it became so old and rickety that we'd have to go find something new," he said. "I think states that have strong and unique systems are going to realize they are of value to others and put them on the market. Other states will then consider those rather than paying a lot more

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