especially as you got into more rural areas. ... We said, 'These people are too valuable to let them go off to other places.'"

The FSSA wanted 1,500 of its 2,200-person work force to become IBM employees. The agency required IBM to offer all 1,500 employees jobs for a minimum of two years at the same pay and benefits they received from the state.

Main also said the Texas HHSC tried to change too much too quickly. "They tried to change the way they did business by instituting different process models. They tried to replace their core legacy computer system. They tried to change some of the rules of eligibility on some of their most popular programs. And they tried to lay off a third of their work force all at the same time," Main said.

Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for the HHSC, said the agency attempted such an ambitious plan simply because it had a lot to change. Texas' outdated system hadn't changed in nearly four decades, and colleges no longer taught COBOL, the system's programming language. The system needed quick, drastic modernization before the state ran out of COBOL programmers.

"There are also special challenges in dealing with a population as large and diverse as we have in Texas. We have 2.3 million food stamp recipients," Goodman said. "I suspect that's a few more than Indiana."

New Focus

Main said the role of FSSA's leaders changed to focus on contract management rather than traditional operations management.

"We've changed the mission of the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration," Main said. The agency's primary focus needs to be contract management, he said, because 92 percent of the agency's $7 billion budget is contracted out.

The pilot version of the IBM contract is under way in 12 counties.

"Anytime you do a pilot," he said, "you make certain guesses on the number of people who are going to access the system through each different kind of channel." Main said call volume was double what was expected.

The FSSA planned for phone hold times to be only 90 seconds. Instead, they average roughly 5 minutes, Main said. However, he said when call center operators answer the calls and apologize for those wait times, they often receive surprising responses.

"[Clients] say, 'Are you kidding me? Five minutes on the phone? I waited 10 minutes at the bus stop just to catch the first of two buses I needed to take to the county welfare office. This is incredibly convenient for us.'"

 

Andy Opsahl  |  Staff Writer