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Horse Racing Board CIO Notches a Win With Major IT Project

“I’m getting ready to write at least a mid-five-figure check,” said board CIO Bill Glaholt. “I said, ‘Hold on. You’re telling me that for less than $1,000, I’m going to be able to ... build the thing that I want to, using your tool?’ Sign me up!”

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The California Horse Racing Board (CHRB) has crossed the finish line on a years-long project that’s turned around the board’s data management system.

The board’s chief information officer, Bill Glaholt, has just overseen completion of a massive replacement of the California Horse Racing Information System, dubbed CHRIS 1, with a whole new system – CHRIS 2.
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“Originally, they built the mainframe system in 1984, and it went live in 1985 – I was just starting high school at the time,” Glaholt told Techwire in an interview last week. “And it was literally a mainframe system – the old green screen terminals – and although it was fairly well-written for the time, it was also unconstrained as far as what data people could enter. That was my biggest nightmare.”

What started out in 1984 as a licensing system for horse racing in California became a conglomeration of patches and add-ons – “It was a licensing module at first, and then they tacked on some ruling and some case management, as well as some horse and veterinarian management,” Glaholt said.

When he joined the board in 2014, there was a request pending with the state for a $2 million system that would take two years to develop and implement. But then the Legislature rejected the idea of exchange wagering, and when that went away, so did the need for a huge new system.

The board has an IT budget of roughly $900,000 per year, so that old system would have consumed IT’s budget for at least two years, probably more.

“So I started looking at it some more, and I said, ‘This thing doesn’t exactly do what we need it to do. Maybe we should just cancel this entirely.’ So that got canned,” Glaholt said.

Instead, the CIO found a smaller-scale solution that he had used before, loved working with and was able to get for a fraction of the cost: Oracle’s PeopleSoft.

“I’m an old PeopleSoft developer, and in the early 2000s, I was part of the team that built the Staff Central project in Caltrans (California Department of Transportation),” he said. “It was an HR system that we did right that time, the very first time. We put the main PeopleSoft system into place, and then just took one little crucial but very small interface and converted that into PeopleSoft to prove it out, to start showing its efficacy. And then the magic words happened – our customers said, ‘Oh, what else can it do?’

“And that’s when you know you have them hooked. That’s when you can start adding new modules. … I built an interface between the State Controller’s Office and Caltrans to get the daily HR feed; we built a worker’s comp module; we built a licensing module; we built a learning management module – and that was in just four years. So I was enthralled with PS.

“I knew we could take the system and build any business rule set that existed. I thought, man, I would love to get my hands on just the development module. At the time, you had to also buy the HR or the financial system or any of the PeopleSoft-sold modules. … I’m an old C++ developer, an old Assembly developer. I’ve programmed in a gazillion different languages, and the PeopleSoft core system was all that and a bag of chips. I always loved it. It had all the things you needed: security, a full, true web interface … and it was friendly to use. It was exactly what I wanted here, at CHRB, to put CHRIS 2 into place, to replace the old CHRIS 1.”

So in late 2016, with a new plan, Glaholt told Oracle’s West Coast rep what he wanted: “I would love to be able to put this system in place, and I would love to build our application on top of just your development tools. And she said, ‘No one has ever asked for that before. … I’ll sell you the license just for those; you don’t have to buy the other modules.’

“And I’m getting ready to write this huge check on behalf of CHRB, and I asked how much it was going to be. And she said the main developer license costs about $70. I’m getting ready to write at least a mid-five-figure check. I said, ‘Hold on. You’re telling me that for less than $1,000, I’m going to be able to invest in PeopleSoft and build the thing that I want to, using your tool?’ Sign me up!”

Having trimmed a ponderous $2 million expenditure into a $1,000 purchase, Glaholt was off to the races.

“By Jan. 1, 2017, we had a full development PeopleSoft tool running. We’ve spent about $500 a year to keep the license and support going. Our biggest main expense was getting an all-star PeopleSoft developer and configuration expert to come on board.” After that, CHRB got the license module up and running in September 2019.

“That’s been used since then, and just last weekend we popped on the Horse, Veterinarian, Case and Ruling modules as well as the Rules modules,” Glaholt said. “So almost all of the searches you now see on our website are now directly out of the PeopleSoft database, and the nice thing about it that with the old system, CHRIS 1, nobody knew what anybody else did. Nobody had insight as to what their data was going to do for them. Whereas CHRIS 2 is visual – it shows you where that data is being used, how that data is being used and why it’s important to the rest of the organization. And everybody, with the exception of a few folks up in Legal, is now actually using and contributing to this system and utilizing the data therein.”

Glaholt’s emotions showed as he recounted the success of CHRIS 2.

“This was a brainchild of mine that has come into focus and has shown its efficacy,” he said. “And now, I am talking to Oracle about the possibility of working with CDT (California Department of Technology) to build a crack PeopleSoft development team that would use Oracle on the cloud, which is basically a PeopleSoft variant. … Maybe they'll give us their business rules and put that into place, and save the state millions and millions of dollars. The nice thing about it is that CDT already has a few of those ideas in their repertoire; this would just be another one, using Oracle Cloud.”

Glaholt said this was a case of what went right.

“Oracle wins because they have a presence in a California state system,” he said. “We win because we can get our projects up and at least prototyped very, very quickly. And the state wins because they get lots of good stuff for a whole lot less money than they would have spent otherwise. That’s my big, huge strategic goal. If I had retired and accomplished that, I would have retired a very satisfied person.”

He’s quick to give credit for the help.

“I want to give a shoutout to CDT. One of the things that really made this possible was something called an IBM DVM – a data virtualization manager. It basically builds a wrapper around any mainframe database and makes it become a SQL server. … So a big, huge shoutout to CDT’s DVM team. That was invaluable.”

He added: “The ace in the hole is that FI$Cal (Financial Information System for California) is PeopleSoft-based, so integrating between any project you want to do and FI$Cal would be a no-brainer.”

Now, Glaholt and his team are steadily cleaning and entering decades-old data into the new system, which brings order to the digital chaos.

And he’s eager to share the fruit of his labors.

“Data reliability and integrity – that’s something we did not have with CHRIS 1,” he said. “It was such a Wild West hodgepodge of data entered. … Now there’s one way to enter it. I’m hoping to be able to show it off at the next CIO conference. This is exactly what I was hoping it would become.”
Dennis Noone is Managing Editor of Techwire. He is a career journalist, having worked as a reporter and editor at small-town newspapers and major metropolitan dailies in California, Nevada, Texas and Virginia, including as an editor with USA Today in Washington, D.C. He lives in the Northern California foothills.