to meet all those requirements, but we're also going to focus on improving some of the functionality in the system -- making the system a little more user-friendly."

SACWIS Vacuum

Viola Miller is also quite familiar with Kentucky's SACWIS experience.

Miller served as secretary of Families and Children in Kentucky prior to being appointed commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Children's Services in late 2003. Tennessee plans to release an RFP in early 2007 to upgrade its existing SACWIS to a second-generation SACWIS built on Web services.

Miller said she remembers well the difficulty Kentucky encountered during its search for the technology to create the state's SACWIS.

"As I began to search, it just didn't seem to me that this should be as hard as it was --that there ought to be some product, market or base to build around," Miller recalled. "But the market is too small. There are only 50 states, so there's not enough market there for private industry to really develop a product that's going to help states."

States fended for themselves in solving the SACWIS puzzle, she said, and those individual efforts did little to create critical mass for a SACWIS market. Those efforts had to be individual because every state administers health and human services differently, Miller continued, forcing states to reinvent the SACWIS wheel.

Miller cites such individuality as the chief barrier to creating an off-the-shelf SACWIS application that any state can purchase and simply plug into its health and human services technology architecture. The nature of a SACWIS makes it completely different from, say, a business system such as an enterprise resource planning application.

"If this was a business application, writ large, there would then be a market for it," she said.

Along with the decidedly nonbusiness nature of social services agencies' work, the culture of these agencies creates another complication when building IT systems such as SACWIS. Social services agencies take a humanistic approach to their work, Miller explained, instead of an organizational, management-driven perspective -- which makes building a SACWIS that much slower.

"It's not a good/bad judgment. It's just the nature of the work we do," she said. "Social workers would rather spend their time with [client] families and kids, instead of entering information into a case-management system."

Shane Peterson  |  Associate Editor