October 26, 2010 By Sarah Rich
The Department of Family Services in Clark County, Nev., announced this week that the agency has completed its deployment of IBM’s Cognos business analytics solution in order to comply with new state regulations. County officials say the new system improves work efficiency and generates revenue.
In fact, in less than 18 months, the software has helped the agency better target federal revenue sources while reducing waste and fraud, leading to $7 million in new revenue, according to the department. Some of that revenue is captured through enhanced detection of waste and fraud.
“The IBM analytics technologies used by the Family Services Department will help decrease waste and fraud while improving responsiveness, accessibility and accountability to citizens,” said Anne K. Altman, general manager of IBM’s Public Sector, in a press release.
The Department of Family Services is responsible for regional family and social services — such as child protective services, foster care and adoption — for Clark County’s 2 million residents.
Use of analytics in the department was rooted in changes made to the delivery of social services at the state and local level. A plan enacted a decade ago integrated existing state systems for family services into Clark County’s system, through which the county became responsible for additional business areas that before were the state’s responsibility.
Consequently Clark County was mandated by the state to use a statewide case management system called Unified Nevada Information Technology for Youth (UNITY). Prior to 2003, the Family Services Department used a customized, county-owned case management system called Family Track. The additional information that was brought into the UNITY case management system created a need for an analytics solution.
Deploying the analytic software began in phases in 2005, starting with the department’s most critical areas, said Lori Higdon, a senior business systems analyst in Clark County’s IT department. Work continued on the system for the next few years. Startup costs were about $3 million, Higdon said.
Reports that are generated by the software focus on compliance with policies, procedures and federal regulations. For example, Nevada requires that children assigned to caseworkers must be seen once a month, so percentages of children seen or not seen by their caseworkers are tracked. From there, supervisors have the necessary intelligence to ensure that the proper actions are taken.
Eboni Washington, a senior management analyst for Clark County, said that although there’s a bit of a learning curve, staff members typically pick up the analytics system quickly. “It’s user-friendly and easy for nontechnical staff to grasp to develop reports,” she said.
By using the software, the department also has been able to minimize the amount of manual data entry and collection, which at times resulted in errors. Programming staff used to require up to 14 hours when creating a single report, but with IBM analytics, a report can be generated in half the time, according to the department.
But there can be challenges when adopting analytics technology. Although less staff time initially was needed to generate a single report, as the Family Services Department reports became more complex, the processing time actually increased somewhat over time. The entire infrastructure was evaluated, which showed potential for bottlenecks, so the department added resources by moving to virtual servers, which helped the agency adjust, Higdon said.
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