they could brag about to their constituents, said Main.

The Solution

IBM deployed a case management suite powered by Cúram Software that used the state's legacy benefits calculation application, so the agency didn't have to start from scratch. The solution implemented Web interfaces that let citizens conduct business online with the FSSA, which reduces the number of in-person trips to agency offices.

All caseworkers on duty will be able to pull up a citizen's file and provide services. In the past, an FSSA client was assigned to only one caseworker. If a client came to the office on a day his or her caseworker called in sick, he or she was out of luck.

The agency stored client data in paper files, which only the assigned caseworkers touched. If a client moved, the agency had to mail his or her file to a different office.

With electronically stored files, multiple caseworkers, each specializing in different types of benefits, ensure that clients receive all the appropriate entitlements.

Some of those FSSA specialists might work in other offices around the state, said Brian Whitfield, IBM vice president for state and local government. "If someone had a unique case that required specialization, they had to fax and accept documents," he said. "By moving to the electronic file, we can do workload balancing around the state."

In the past, if a caseworker lacked knowledge about certain programs, that caseworker's client was at a disadvantage, said Main.

IBM also established a centralized call center that's open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. to answer clients' questions. Gone are the days when clients could only call during bankers' hours. The call center has access to all case files and uses an interactive voice response system to handle 40 percent of the calls.

"Now like normal customer service situations you run into, I can pick up a phone if I'm a client, and I can call, and whoever answers my call can open up my case from a computer and answer my questions," Main said.

IBM also implemented a technology in which FSSA employees insert mailed paper applications into a system that scans them, creates an electronic document and routes the e-copy to the proper files.

"Before, you'd have stuff coming in that was mailed, and you had to figure out manually where it needed to go, then put it with a hard-copy file," Whitfield said.

He said the fact that one case will often be handled by several different caseworkers would likely uncover and prevent fraud. In the past, caseworkers were usually in charge of their cases from beginning to end, making it easy for them to give benefits to ineligibles.

"Over the last few years before we got here, we had more than 20 of our employees arrested for fraud charges, with an average amount stolen of roughly $50,000 each," Main said. "Then we had a couple more people arrested while we were in the process of going through the procurement."

The Migration

Main was determined not to go through the same difficulties Texas faced when it tried to replace caseworker offices at the state's Health and Human Services Commission (HHSC) with a centralized call center. Most of the Texas agency's seasoned employees moved to jobs elsewhere after resisting the drastic culture change. This left the agency's contractor to staff the center mostly with new employees who had the additional challenge of debugging the call center's new eligibility application.

"Texas modernized and thought they could replace seasoned caseworkers with $8-per-hour people off the street," Main said. "We had an incredibly educated work force - a lot of them with master's degrees and bachelor's degrees. The average tenure was more than 10 years,

Andy Opsahl  | 

Andy Opsahl is a former staff writer and features editor for Government Technology magazine.