government realms like law enforcement and education. Edwards said the agency is working with the county Sheriff's Office to pull incarceration data and chart it against those receiving county benefits. The agency also is determined to work with the 17 county school districts to share up-to-date information on children in the foster care system.
Back in 2003, Edwards was looking to build a network linking disparate systems in a user-accessible way. He wanted workers to have a holistic view of each case and be alerted in real time of the next actions to take. But the risk inherent in building a data warehouse in a public environment kept the project on the back burner for some time. "The big challenge is that data warehouses can often be big sinkholes for cash," he said.
In the end, why did the county make the leap? Alameda had many drivers, among them, a desire to meet a 2005 federal law that mandated that half of all welfare clients participate in work activities or the county would face cuts in funding.
Alameda's analytics software runs on a Linux operating system. The county uses IBM's Cognos business intelligence software to provide reporting and dashboards. The initial investment in the IBM technology was $1.3 million, which Edwards believes will be more than realized in savings. But he added: "The real benefit of the system is how well the agency will serve its public as a result of the collaboration."
Power of PEAK
Colorado also had its clients in mind when in late 2009 it unveiled a self-service, Web-enabled application for public benefits called the Program Eligibility Application Kit (PEAK).
PEAK empowers citizens to check through a simple interface if they're eligible for food, medical or cash assistance from five different government programs, and also to log on to check their benefits or apply for benefits using an electronic application. PEAK is part of a series of improvements and updates that Colorado is making to its existing Colorado Benefits Management System (CBMS).
"This will be a huge efficiency improvement for our clients because it allows them not to have to print out a paper application and stand in line, and it reduces data verification and data entry errors, improving the overall application process and timeline," said William Browning, president of Colorado-based Rebound Solutions, who served for eight months as interim director of the CBMS to oversee improvements to the system.
Under the "Am I Eligible" area, clients submit basic demographic, income and other information to get an eligibility picture. The site also offers computer skills and navigation tutorials. Although PEAK cannot guarantee the accuracy of its benefits eligibility determination, Browning said the application is a good way to screen clients before they take time to visit workers.
"We've all seen clients who don't need to apply because they aren't qualified," Browning said. "People don't realize how poor you have to be to be eligible for food assistance."
When clients decide they want to apply, electronic application forms are intuitive and collect information based on what the client is applying for, Browning said.
On the intake side, the state also will be implementing the Intelligent Data Entry (IDE) project to smooth processing by improving the interface, Browning said. The improvements, which will help the state and counties avoid federal sanctions by speeding up processing time, are a result of a state collaboration with Deloitte Consulting and county caseworker representatives. The IDE functions will be released progressively through 2012.
While the initial 2004 CBMS rollout was a disaster -- the system was slow, immature and underfunded -- Browning said that the CBMS has been stable for two years. And with Deloitte now on board, the state has instituted an improved quality assurance process and is upgrading key servers and storage components. "The