Editor’s Note: Angela Rouelle is CIO of the Vermont Agency of Human Services. Dave McCurley is global managing director of Accenture Software, Health and Public Service. Tony Dicuffa is service-oriented architecture lead for Accenture Software, Health and Public Service.

Human services agencies spend valuable time and money trying to squeeze what they can out of legacy systems that are, in fact, putting the squeeze on already scarce taxpayer dollars. In this era of doing better with less, how can agencies get more out of legacy systems that are outdated, siloed and costly to maintain — maximizing their IT investments while getting steps closer to integrated service delivery?

Enter SOA. Service-oriented architecture (SOA) makes it possible for human services agencies to achieve cost savings, time savings and the flexibility to make legacy systems work for the agency, not against it.

SOA — What Is It?

SOA is not a product, a software package or a programming language. Nor is it a collection of Web services. Rather, it’s an architectural approach to addressing the challenges of connecting disparate systems. SOA helps manage the connections of various services, capturing what’s most meaningful in a legacy system, and reusing those valuable components for maximum efficiency and flexibility. It leverages a state’s current technologies, enabling it to update programs incrementally via commercial off-the-shelf, custom build and transfer solutions.

SOA also puts the technology reins into the hands of the business users. Since processes and applications are integrated and standardized, users can often make their own updates. For example, when new legislation is enacted, human services employees are equipped to enter necessary changes into a rules-based engine that applies the standards across the board.

In the end, this means lower maintenance costs, improved responsiveness to legislative and policy change, and the flexibility to make more efficient incremental updates and improvements rather than large-scale upgrades to legacy systems or costly new implementations.

Showing What’s Possible in Vermont

The Vermont Agency of Human Services (AHS) is a prime example of how SOA can accelerate the journey to integrated human services.

The AHS is unique in that it serves a diverse base of clients among Vermont’s 625,000 residents. Unlike other states, the AHS is responsible for corrections along with child support, family services, economic services, economic opportunity, aging and independent living, among other areas. The AHS also works side-by-side with other state departments such as tax and transportation. These close connections make Vermont —and the AHS — a perfect testing ground for SOA.

With state legacy systems dating back 30 years, there is little opportunity to share information seamlessly across departments. And because there is no integrated view of individual clients and families, it is challenging to know what services and programs a family is signed up for, and what more they need.

On the Journey to Transformation

These challenges became even more apparent when the AHS set out to update its Medicaid eligibility system. The agency recognized that rather than the standard “black box” approach where all rules and validations are baked right into the system, there must be a way to do this right — from the start.

With the goals of mastering data integrity and putting it into the hands of users (human services employees and business partners), the AHS began the journey to building a flexible architecture on an accelerated time frame.

The AHS joined forces with Accenture to jump-start this new infrastructure. The Accenture Public Service Platform is enabling the AHS to share data and maintain its integrity across the agency and among a wide range of users. This pre-coded, pre-tested, pre-configured platform helps govern an overall SOA approach and make it easier to implement.

This SOA approach will enable a number of benefits for the AHS, including:

Reusable components — Open architected tools compartmentalize the most meaningful parts of a legacy system so they can be reused across programs (think Legos). With these building blocks, agencies can build upon these components, making connections through various workflows. The modularity also makes it easy to plug in additional models.

Cost savings — SOA is helping the AHS save money on the back end while giving the client better and more informed services on the front end. By developing discrete services, the agency can reconfigure what’s in place.

Ease of management — SOA offers control. Rather than reacting to legislative initiatives, SOA puts the rules back in hands of those who write rules. Decisions about new rules can be easily evaluated for their impact, made strategically and applied across the board.

Better connections — The integrated platform yields a common, shared view of the client. Instead of one caseworker serving one client through one department, agencies can deliver a more holistic mix of services based on client needs. For an agency that serves such diverse populations, this is critical. For example, the AHS’ vision would help ensure that a prisoner with diabetes who is released from prison seamlessly moves into a health-care cost containment program that provides regular monitoring of his condition.

While the journey is at its early stages, the AHS is on the fast track to showing what is possible through SOA — no more black boxes, no more siloes and no more time and money spent trying to teach an old legacy system new tricks.

Article reprinted from Policy & Practice, American Public Human Services Association, August 2011.

Angela Rouelle  |  CIO, Vermont Agency of Human Services

CIO, Vermont Agency of Human Services

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Tony Dicuffa  |  Service-Oriented Architecture Lead, Accenture Software, Health and Public Service

Service-Oriented Architecture Lead, Accenture Software, Health and Public Service