time, was promoting reuse and transfer systems -- it was really encouraging states to take another state's system and adapt it, rather than paying for 50 brand-new systems."

Perras said New Hampshire officials had seen Oklahoma's system in operation, liked it and wanted it for their state. In an odd twist, Perras said DRC wound up competing against the company that produced Okalahoma's system for the New Hampshire SACWIS contract.

"We chose to go to the federal government to take it up on its word that the Oklahoma system was part of the public domain, that we could get a copy of it and compete against the original developer in a fair competition," Perras recalled.

A few years later, New Hampshire Bridges was adapted to fit Colorado's needs, Perras said, adding that Colorado officials liked New Hampshire Bridges due to the two states' similarity in business processes for child welfare services. The Colorado Trails SACWIS went live in 2001.

DRC is now busy in Ohio. The company won a contract, and after a two-year development effort, a SACWIS pilot kicked off in Ohio's Muskingum County in August 2006. Perras said the target date for rolling out the SACWIS to Ohio's remaining 87 counties is mid-2007.

Other SACWIS Success

In 1998, Oklahoma was the first state to achieve full federal tier-one compliance with its SACWIS, according to the GAO. Other states have since followed Oklahoma's lead.

Kentucky started its SACWIS -- called The Worker's Information SysTem (TWIST) -- in the early '90s, said Lorna Jones, CIO of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

TWIST went live in 1996 and serves 129 locations throughout the state. In 1997, Kentucky won an award for TWIST from the then-National Association of State Information Resource Executives for "Innovative Use of Technology."

"TWIST was one of the first client/server applications that Kentucky rolled out," Jones said, noting that the state attempted to adhere to federal SACWIS guidelines from TWIST's beginning. "Our first federal review came in 1999, and we worked closely with the feds over the years. It wasn't until July 2005 that we received tier-one SACWIS compliance. It's been a long, evolving process focused mainly on meeting those many SACWIS requirements, as well as trying to get a system in place for workers to use in the field."

Besides the burden of meeting various federal requirements, Jones said the health and human services setting itself makes it hard for states to build a SACWIS.

"Health and human services is a very dynamic environment to try to automate. When you're dealing with human services, every day is a different day," she said. "It's like changing a tire on the bus as you're driving down the road. Once you're operational, from a technology standpoint, you've got to focus on maintaining the system, making sure the payments go out the door, and at the same time, making those changes toward meeting all the federal requirements."

It's a huge challenge, Jones said, and one that states seem slow to respond to. But there's a reason for the slow pace, Jones said: States realize there's no room for error; people depend on human services agencies to be on time with benefit payments and related assistance.

"We are dealing with human services," she said. "What we roll out has to be right because you're dealing with people's lives."

Kentucky is now moving TWIST to a new, Web-based platform to create a second-generation SACWIS. Jones said the state is planning a two- to three-year transition, and the hope is that the conversion will be easier, since Kentucky already built its SACWIS.

Still, moving to a second-generation SACWIS presents its own challenges.

"We have to make sure we stay SACWIS-compliant," she said. "We still have

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor