Government Technology

State and County Health and Human Services Agencies Use Technology to Break Down Silos and to Better Serve Citizens

HHS Fish Sept. 2010 feature

August 30, 2010 By

a cell phone interface, and mash-up capabilities with Facebook and Craigslist for greater access to resources. "We want the external website to be like a front door to involvement with this overall FISH network," Walsh said.

The FISH collaboration began three years ago when Scott County's nonprofit and faith-based communities faced big budget reductions that laid bare their vulnerabilities: They had few volunteer channels and little cross-sector support. A need to pull resources together became clear.

"The interest was to serve people better, to reduce duplication, to reduce redundancy in the system, to increase the sharing of volunteers and resources ... and over time, to develop that network," Walsh said.

With the vote of confidence from the county commissioners, the county board formalized the goal two years ago and one year later formed the leadership council and plans for a collaborative networking site.

The point of FISH isn't to erect another government bureaucracy, but to allow government to step into a secondary, facilitative role, he said.

Walsh said FISH's success during the country's recession gives him hope. "I think it's awe-inspiring and hope-inspiring to see how people are stepping up to do their part to meet these needs," he said.

Alameda Analytics

Another spot of sunshine -- in a land of even deeper budget cuts -- has been Alameda County, Calif., east of San Francisco. The county has found a tool that saves money and improves services by empowering caseworkers with all the right information.

The county uses a public-sector analytics framework that combines an IBM data warehouse with analytics technology to enable county workers to speed up the eligibility process and identify fraud.

The secure database downloads information daily from the county's six benefits systems, and the analytics system organizes and presents the information in a single dashboard and alerts workers who can go straight to cases that need attention.

"That's the beauty of [the data warehouse]: to bring in information and provide information and to do it in a very secure and confidential way," said Don Edwards, the project's lead and assistant director of administration and finance for the Alameda County Social Services Agency.

The analytics component works with the agency's existing interactive voice response technology to call clients' homes and warn of possible changes to benefits pending an action. In some cases, the system can take action, such as discontinue benefits, without human intervention.

"The brain of the system is very intelligent, it's proactive. But like any machine, you have to tell it what to look for," said Edwards.

One unexpected savings from the data warehouse came when Alameda County discovered that its old service for reporting data about welfare-to-work clients had provided information up to 45 days late and at times was completely inaccurate. The county saved $75,000 by eliminating the old service, and now uses the raw data piped in from the data warehouse to find the true welfare-to-work participation rate.

With this information, the county will have a better chance to meet federal tracking requirements by identifying clients who had previously fallen through the cracks. Through fraud detection and system improvement and efficiency, the county estimates that it can recover $11 million, Edwards said.

The data warehouse and analytics system were up and running within six months. "We could see in the very beginning, in January [2009], how clients are associated with one another," he said. "We could see in one glance the entire life cycle of a client." For instance, the agency witnessed multiple clients with the same Social Security numbers and clients both receiving state welfare benefits and serving as care providers in the adult and aging system -- suspicious events that call for investigation.

The agency now wants to bring the technology into other

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