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Harbor Flex Case Study: Solution for the United States Department of Health and Human Services

March 1, 2007

Introduction

Corporate real estate departments are familiar with adapting to change. Mergers and acquisitions, strategy and budgetary changes, and new financial reporting requirements are just a few examples of the challenges that must be managed. These types of challenges, however, are not unique to the private sector. Government entities at all levels are regularly faced with the need to adapt to legislated and organizational changes. Government departments and agencies commonly have very large and diverse real estate portfolios, resulting in the need for software systems capable of satisfying the special tracking, reporting, and analysis requirements.

In February 2004, the President of the United States issued Executive Order 13327:

It is the policy of the United States to promote the efficient and economical use of America's real property assets, and to assure management accountability for implementing Federal real property management reforms. Based on this policy, executive branch departments and agencies shall recognize the importance of real property resources through increased management attention, the establishment of clear goals and objectives, improved policies and levels of accountability, and other appropriate action.

This prompted the United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to create a new reporting requirement that impacted all federal government agencies. Agencies would be required to provide valuable metrics relating to each real property location in order to comply with the new policy. This case study describes how one of largest agencies of the Federal Government met this challenge through the use of Harbor Flex.

Background

The United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) consists of many operating divisions, all with varying real estate needs. In addition to requiring a software system to allow them to comply with the new reporting requirement issued by OMB, HHS also wanted to add additional reporting and data analysis capabilities for use within HHS. To provide these features, HHS sought a technology partner to provide a tailored and cost effective solution.

Guidance for Executive Order 13327 was issued by the Federal Real Property Council. The guidance provided details for periodic electronic submission of lease and real property data to the OMB for the Federal Real Property Profile (FRPP). FRPP is a system designed to collect and consolidate real estate data across all government agencies. The required content of a submission to FRPP includes several key pieces of information about each location (such as address and size information), as well as various performance metrics (such as utilization, condition, and annual costs). The required format for a submission is an XML file containing a specific set of data tags. Many of the required data elements in a submission must be reported as numerical codes to ensure consistency across all agencies.

In addition to the FRPP data submission requirements, HHS wanted to collect additional lease and real property information above and beyond the data elements required by FRPP. This additional information would be for internal use by HHS. The data elements required by HHS overlap with the FRPP data elements to an extent, but additional pieces of information about each property were also desired. The decision was made to create a single consolidated database of real estate information for HHS that would include both sets of data elements. This single database would contain information for more than 3,500 locations reported by four major operating divisions and several smaller operating divisions within HHS.

There were many challenges to the technology aspect of the project.

  • The four major operating divisions (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Food and Drug Administration, Indian Health Service, and the National Institutes of Health) all had existing facility systems. These systems contained many features above and beyond the scope of the project, so replacing them was not an option.
  • HHS wanted to avoid having each operating division create, test, and maintain XML exports for submission to the FRPP system. Doing so would have been considerably more work initially, would require more ongoing effort, and would have been more difficult to coordinate than a single, comprehensive submission to the FRPP.
  • Generation of the XML export by the smaller operating divisions would have been a manual process.
  • HHS wanted to minimize impact on the operating divisions. The goal was to maximize use of existing reports and spreadsheets and then use those to pull together the data into a consolidated platform. From there, a single XML export could be built to satisfy the FRPP requirements and any additional functionality desired by HHS.
  • All work had to be completed in a compressed timeframe under a limited budget.

Discussion

Following the due diligence review of Harbor Flex and Lease Harbor LLC’s consulting capabilities, Lease Harbor LLC was engaged for a year-long project to create the HHS system. The overall design was to leverage the flexibility of Harbor Flex to tailor a portfolio configuration that met the unique needs of HHS. Data from the major operating divisions would be loaded into Harbor Flex via web services using existing or modified reports. A single XML export report would be created in Harbor Flex, allowing HHS to electronically submit lease and real property information to OMB's Federal Real Property Profile system (a key task required for compliance with the President's Executive Order).

Project Highlights

  • Customized Portfolio Configuration – Lease Harbor LLC created a Harbor Flex portfolio containing numerous custom fields to accommodate the FRPP requirements, as well as the additional requirements desired by HHS. Harbor Flex has the inherent ability to allow unlimited custom fields in each portfolio, so this approach did not result in any significant customization costs.
  • Web Services – Lease Harbor LLC designed web service interfaces to allow operating division data to be loaded directly into Harbor Flex programmatically. The use of the web services model avoided the manual entry of data already housed in the existing HHS facility management systems.
  • Operating Division Data Loading Utility – Lease Harbor LLC developed custom utilities that read each operating division’s unique data formats generated from the disparate real property systems already in place. The utilities then go through the data, translate the fields to the appropriate set of standardized values contained in Harbor Flex, and load them into Harbor Flex using the web services features of Harbor Flex.
  • Validation and Logging – As the data received by the operating divisions is automatically loaded, a number of data validations are performed. The validation process looks for missing or invalid values and logs them so that any data issues can be easily identified and corrected by the submitting operating division.
  • Consolidated XML Reporting for the FRPP – Utilizing the data loaded into Harbor Flex via web services, and Harbor Flex’s powerful ad hoc reporting tool, Power Reporting, a consolidated XML file is generated and exported to OMB for each reporting period.
  • Self Service – With minimal training, the data import and export is now performed by HHS employees and requires no assistance from Lease Harbor LLC personnel.
  • Timeline – The project was completed on time and within budget.
  • Post Implementation – Subsequent to the successful implementation, HHS was graded by OMB for compliance to the Executive Order. The results showed that the project was clearly a success. HHS received a full grade higher than its prior data submission - a major accomplishment for HHS. OMB reacted favorably to both the efficiency and effectiveness of the Harbor Flex solution.
  • GSA Federal Supply Schedule Award – In July 2006, Lease Harbor LLC was awarded a five year contract with the GSA (Schedule 70 - #GS-35F-0543S). The contract followed a lengthy application process, a customer satisfaction survey administered by an independent third party, and an in-depth due diligence process to assess Lease Harbor LLC’s financial stability and long-term viability.

Conclusion

As another unique use of Harbor Flex, the HHS project introduced Lease Harbor LLC to the Federal Government marketplace. Given the success of the solution provided to HHS, Lease Harbor LLC expects to expand its service delivery to additional public sector entities while continuing to grow its private sector market share. The HHS engagement further evidences the opportunity for Lease Harbor LLC’s clients to achieve highly successful and cost effective solutions through the creative application of Harbor Flex’s inherent flexibility.


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