REVIEWER: Erin Conley, program analyst for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Emergency and Remedial Response.
BACKGROUND: The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a daily requirement to balance the perception of its many Superfund projects with the reality of each project's progress. The EPA is divided into 10 regions, each with its own set of Superfund cleanup sites. One of the office's major responsibilities is to take the data generated by Superfund sites nationally and make it useful for regional as well as EPA headquarter managers. In addition to the standard charts, the Office of Emergency and Remedial Response (OERR) is also responsible for generating fact sheets and charts to be used in support of congressional hearings. As these hearings can happen at a moment's notice, the staff must often drop everything to create a new set of materials. Creating ad hoc reports would formerly cause a major disruption to the office's daily activities. Prior to the EPA's test and subsequent implementation of PopChart, it took OERR staff an entire workday to manually create the standard top-level charts, in addition to the creation of more specific charts that are often required as support material. To solve its data management issues, the EPA initiated an evaluation and a subsequent implementation of PopChart, a dynamic, Web-based charting and graphing solution from Corda Technologies.
PLATFORMS: The EPA uses a local area network that supports Windows 2000 and SQL Server.
PROBLEM SOLVED: The EPA launched a pilot program early last year using PopChart to generate a daily set of charts and graphs from the nightly data download from all 10 regions. Today, each of the EPA's 10 regions automatically downloads its own data, populating the national database each night. Utilizing an extraction from the national database, PopChart automatically generates all the visual representations of the numerical data that we need. The process is entirely automated and requires no intervention from anyone on the staff.
PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: Some of the most useful charts and fact sheets generated by PopChart include specific Superfund site statistics, site progress through the cleanup process, critical obligations, drill-down to more detailed figures and graphics, and links to related information on the intranet or the Web. Additionally, the system eliminates the struggle to create ad hoc reports when congressional hearings or other immediate needs arise. With all charts and graphs automatically generated daily from the actual accurate data sources, required information is only a mouse click away.
STRENGTHS: The EPA has been very impressed with the level of visual graphics created by PopChart, as well as the level of integration with the Windows 2000 and SQL server environment. The visual representation of data really helps us appeal to a wide audience within the agency. The drill-down capabilities of PopChart- generated graphics allow users of all knowledge levels and interests to get exactly the information they need. Users access Superfund data on the intranet by clicking on any of the regions on a map. From there, they drill down to the more detailed regional or site-specific information.
WEAKNESSES: When the EPA implemented PopChart, it did not have a .NET component which would have been useful. I've been informed that Corda has since added the .NET component to the product.
SELECTION CRITERIA: The EPA needed a solution that was fully compliant with the government's Section 508 of the Federal Rehabilitation Act, which requires government agencies to make all uses of technology accessible to the disabled. PopChart automatically generates text that describes the information in the charts and graphs which can be read and broadcast by a screen reader, thus helping the visually impaired to understand and use the data. No other solution allowed us to create charts and graphs from data gathered from various databases and sources. The solution is also Section 508 compliant.
DELIVERABLES: Remarkably, the PopChart implementation saves the EPA 800 person-hours per month, which would otherwise need to be handled through outside consultants charging approximately $25 to $35 per hour. Taking a midrange cost of $30 per person hour, the PopChart data visualization solution is saving the EPA $24,000 per month. For the first six months of production, that equates to a savings to date of $144,000 which will continue for every month the PopChart solution is in use.
VENDOR SUPPORT: Vendor support for the implementation, both in the testing phase and following the formal implementation, has been excellent.
DOCUMENTATION: Product documentation was clear and concise.
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