How to Build a Quality Social Services Project

Jurisdictions: Australian Department of Social Services, California, Minnesota, Michigan, Maryland, Florida, Washington, Massachusetts, Merced County, Calif., Human Services Agency

by / April 30, 1995
In social services information systems, a new standard of quality is emerging, advanced in part by the National Performance Review and local government reinvention.

That new standard includes:

Efficient and humane service delivery for beneficiaries.

Prevention rather than correction of errors and fraud.

Integrated and consistent application of the rules and regulations of eligibility.

Speedy and effective implementation of new programmatic changes.

Elimination of redundant and labor intensive work processes.

Ease of system maintenance.

Openness of products which can be used to enhance or expand the system.

Delivery of an end product, on time and within budget, which meets political, administrative, technical and user expectations for the long term.
For the most part, however, social services systems development efforts have failed to meet these standards. In order for the billions of dollars invested in these systems to result in quality programs, the public sector must understand the long-term cost of this failure, and develop professional expertise in the planning and management of large scale systems development projects.

Consider: every two years, elections bring forth well-intentioned reform efforts. These efforts most often focus on short-term program reform rather than long-term service delivery and business models. Multiple layers of bureaucracy have overlapping authority with little accountability. And technology changes even more rapidly, with major transitions occurring every 18 months. Under the circumstances, delivering a product that meets end-user, client and taxpayer expectations is like shooting at a moving target, and failure to deliver a "whole" solution results in wasted money and opportunity.

In the best of cases -- such as Minnesota's MAXIS project -- a minimum of five years transpires from the initial Advanced Planning Document -- a plan most often deficient in mandating quality -- to implementation of a system.

Other projects take considerably longer -- for example:

Six or seven years in the yet unfinished Michigan or Maryland FAMIS projects.

Eight or more years in the trouble-ridden FLORIDA system.

Over fifteen years in California