Business Technology: Registry Web Site As Model Of Cooperation

In less than 60 days and for less than $1 million, the U.S. Department of Justice has built a Web site giving access to sex-offender information from 28 states. It's a model of collaboration and cooperation, Bob Evans says, that gives access to information that, while deeply disturbing, is also extremely important.
Sixteen sex offenders reside in the ZIP code where I live with my wife and two teenage daughters. In the upscale Dallas suburb where two of my closest friends live with their three children, there are 54; in the tree-lined Philadelphia neighborhood of other close friends with four children, there are 15; and in the small Great Lakes town where I've spent part of the summer for the past 45 years, there are 14.

I learned all of this depressing but valuable information in 2 minutes using a new Web site developed under the leadership of the United States Department of Justice in close concert with 28 states across the country. The site is called -- NSOPR stands for "National Sex Offender Public Registry" -- and it provides real-time access to public sex-offender data to help parents safeguard their children. And if value to the public can be measured in Web-site traffic, this one has been a monster success: The site received 27 million hits in its first 48 hours of operation, and since then has added bandwidth, load-balancing servers, and access to more than 1,000 related sites.

Those stunning results are expected to climb even higher as the DOJ pushes to get all 50 states linked into the system by the end of the year. California is among the states expected to link into the system in the near future, and it will bring with it some amazing numbers as well: Since California's Megan's Law Web site was launched in December 2004, more than 17 million users have generated more than 180 million hits on the site. Unfortunately, the state's Megan's Law site and the expanding national registry will need to be very high-performance systems: California alone has more than 63,000 registered sex offenders.

For once, Microsoft may be picking the wrong battle, but brother, would I pay to see Steve Ballmer and Marc Benioff in the ring. A long line of opponents lay in the wake of Redmond -- Netscape, Sun, the U.S. Department of Justice -- but when Ballmer said Thursday that Microsoft would give Benioff's software-as-a-service juggernaut,, "a run for its money," he may have invited more than he bargained for.

-- Tony Kontzer, InformationWeek blog, Sept. 8

Could your site handle 27 million hits in 48 hours? The DOJ says NSOPR demand peaked at about 1,000 hits per second on Day 2 -- pretty heady stuff for any new site, let alone one built within the supposedly slow-moving public sector. And along with almost doubling the number of states whose databases can be searched via the site, the DOJ is planning to deliver significantly greater features to users: "DOJ intends to add to the site's functionality to enable multiple ZIP code searches, ZIP code radius searching, and geospatial mapping capabilities," according to a statement from the department. "Many states provide these kinds of tools already, and the goal is to make them available for use by all states and territories."

Hmm. So we've got a stellar example of federal and state collaboration (talk about herding cats!), outstanding performance scaling (I wonder if anyone really thought they'd get 27 million hits in 48 hours?), and in perhaps the most remarkable of all these achievements, the site was designed, built, connected to 22 states, and fully operational in 60 days for less than $1 million. (Yes, that was 60 days, not 60 months; and yes, that was $1 million with an "m" and not billion with a "b.")

Now, to be sure, the Justice Department had some outside help in delivering such a project for less than seven figures -- more than 50 companies in the Integrated Justice Information Systems Institute volunteered time and expertise -- but that's what all organizations are supposed to do today, right? (I swore I would not use the cliche about "don't reinvent the w---l," but that reminded me of a cartoon I saw the other day: a group of cavemen are standing around admiring the handiwork of a colleague, who's just created a beautiful, 6-foot-diameter wheel. But one contrarian Cro-Magnon calls out, "Oh, great -- now we have to invent roads!") And the IJIS site contains a section that should be must-reading for everyone in the business-technology world who's trying to work across functions, groups, divisions, fiefdoms, or even kingdoms: It's called "Why Can't We Share?" , and provides a lot of common-sense approaches. Collaborator, be not proud -- take a look.

While highlighting the practical and professional business-technology achievements the NSOPR project represents, I don't mean to lose sight of its greatest accomplishment: making a major contribution to the safety and well-being of our children. At whatever price, such an outcome is a bargain; the related anecdotes only serve to make it even more remarkable. Check it out ; you won't regret it.