Improving Child Support

Florida implements a unique ERP-based system to streamline enforcement.

by / July 31, 2006

Florida's Department of Revenue (DOR) may be the first in the nation to adapt enterprise resource planning (ERP) software to perform child support enforcement. The new system, operated by the DOR's Child Support Enforcement Division, is an offshoot of the state's ERP-based integrated tax system.

Known as the Florida Child Support Enforcement Automated Management System (CAMS), the application automates many of the day-to-day tasks involved in managing child-support cases. CAMS is designed to identify citizens who fail to comply with child support orders, decide the best course of action and begin executing that action.

The project launched in January with a seven-week pilot in six counties -- Duval, Nassau, Volusia, Flagler, Hernando and Hamilton. These counties were chosen as a cross section of small, medium and large service sites, said Renee Watters, a DOR spokeswoman.

Approximately 320,000 additional cases went live on the system in March, and the remainder of child-support cases throughout the state went live in April. The DOR continues to provide staff training and enhancement of call centers.

Florida child support officials expect the new system to improve productivity significantly.

"It touches many cases at the same time," said Sharon Marshall, manager of a local child support service center in Ft. Lauderdale. "The system does what hundreds of employees could do. We expect more cases will be enforced and that collections will increase. We have a goal to be top in the country in child support enforcement."

Service centers like the Ft. Lauderdale facility are located throughout the state, some covering more than one county, and are open to the public. Marshall said CAMS allows child support professionals to balance automation and human interaction.

The system automatically detects noncompliant parents, and accesses state data to determine the person's location and status. Then it alerts revenue specialists who can take appropriate action, such as issuing a court order or suspending a driver's license.

CAMS replaces the state's legacy Title IV-D online transaction processing system. The new application is separate from Florida's SUNTAX (System for Unified Taxation) integrated tax system -- but both SUNTAX and CAMS are based on the mySAP Business Suite, and they share components, such as customer relationship management and enterprise portal.

Using an ERP platform for CAMS was cost-effective "from both a maintenance and development standpoint, plus upgradability," said Tony Powell, head of Information Systems Processing for the DOR and CAMS technology manager.

"The implementation of best practices embodied in an ERP-based solution was a key decision factor. It is also consistent with the enterprise of the department since our SUNTAX system is an ERP solution," said Powell. "There were cost advantages to doing this, as well as predelivered content that we could capitalize on, such as business partner and case and activity functionality, which are out-of-the-box features of SAP we have utilized to realize CAMS requirements."

ERP: The Best Choice
Using an ERP package lowered development risks and allowed the state to implement processes that have been refined by a large user base, according to John Hugill, a principal with Deloitte Consulting, which worked with Florida to create CAMS and SUNTAX.

"ERP brought value, with a broad base of customers using its tools, and continued enhancement of those functions over time," Hugill said. "With any custom project, the first time you build it, you'll find bugs, so the more time-tested it is -- the more users you have knocking against it -- the better the quality over time."

Florida's new child support enforcement system operates by breaking down child support activities into a series of connected steps.

For example, when performing a driver's license suspension for a nonpaying parent, "We start that process by sending a notice of intent, creating an action profile, and going through the steps to a logical conclusion, to suspend," Hugill said. "These are the foundational blocks as objects of functionality." In other words, the ERP-based child support enforcement system works logically and intuitively, accessing the data with each step and making recommendations for users.

"One of the drivers for the procurement was the state's desire to upgrade from their COBOL legacy technology," Hugill said. "Their goals were not only to mitigate the risks of using legacy technology, but also to look for overall child support improvements through the use of public- and private-sector best practices."

Hugill noted that the legacy technology left a lot to be desired. "It did the job, but for the department to really get the benefits and gains they were looking for in terms of efficiency, it needed to implement ERP."

The planning process for the new system began in 2002 and contracts were signed in 2003, after a long and competitive procurement, according to Hugill. Deloitte and the DOR structured CAMS as a phased implementation, with two years planned for design and development, and one year for operations maintenance.

No Gaming the System
CAMS identifies citizens who fail to pay child support and identifies appropriate actions for Enforcement Division staff, such as requesting a driver's license suspension, issuing a report to a credit bureau, or appropriating a tax refund. CAMS taps into multiple data streams, such as those provided by the Federal Bankruptcy Courts, to identify nonpaying individuals.

Typically that process involves two phases, according to Hugill.

"The first check is done based on interrogation of key data such as Social Security number, name, date of birth or name spelling, that go against the Department of Motor Vehicles data," he said.

"Once the system determines a match, it interrogates other demographic data available such as employment and address, and then determines if the data from that source is better than any other data on that person," Hugill added. "Based on these updates, the system can decide whether that source is high quality, and using different conditions on a source-by-source basis, will accept the data or reject it and pass it."

If Florida's experience with implementing an ERP system proves over time to expedite child support payments, other jurisdictions looking to automate justice, health and child support systems with greater speed and accuracy could apply best practices from the DOR. In the case of child support enforcement, both citizens and government processes will benefit.