In a unique move, Idaho's Department of Labor has licensed and begun to roll out its self-built unemployment benefits system to Iowa and Vermont, with hopes that other states will join the consortium of users.
Faster, smarter and cheaper. That’s the name of the game for the Idaho Department of Labor’s Internet Unemployment System (iUS), which launched in 2014 to quickly process unemployment taxes and benefits in a matter of hours. Now, advancements in the system are being developed on a whole new level to help other states around the nation.
With an antiquated, costly mainframe system built in the 1970s, the Idaho Department of Labor was pressed to find an alternate viable solution. As a result, the administration used 12 in-house employees and spent approximately $7 million to develop the iUS to more efficiently manage unemployment processes. After its launch in 2014, the new system was able to reduce manual worker processing time by more than 2,000 hours.
Mark Mayfield, executive director of the Internet Unemployment System for the Idaho Department of Labor, said the update has also enhanced long-term efficiencies throughout the department. “The mainframe limited our ability to do the things that we really wanted to,” he said. “It required a lot of time, and since we’ve gone to the new technology, we’ve been able to add on new applications that have made our jobs easier, more efficient and accurate.”
The system was recognized in 2015 by the National Association of State Chief Information Officers and received the State IT Recognition Award for Improving State Operations.
Since its launch, four new applications have been added to the iUS to further improve efficiencies and ease of use. One major addition includes a new front-end employer portal that allows employers to digitally communicate with the department 24 hours per day regarding self-service duties without picking up a phone.
Similarly, a new front-end claim portal was implemented to allow customers to log in and view more information about their personal claims online. Other applications were also added to help the department collect on payments.
After a successful two years, the Idaho Department of Unemployment is now partnering with Iowa and Vermont to expand the iUS to accommodate their states’ needs. To do this, Mayfield and his team are updating the system as a more modular solution to easily meet the various criteria of states around the nation.
“We are now breaking it up into pieces because we have found there is a lot of commonality among states (approximately 70 to 80 percent is the same),” said Mayfield. “However, we do have those separate items where they may have specialized programs or processes, so we’re trying to break those into small pieces so we can account for those small differences and assess what they have and how they operate.”
The goal is to create a main system that can be widely used across states. From there, small accommodations can quickly and easily be made to meet specific needs of individual states. While Iowa and Vermont are the first two states to purchase the system’s license and implement the iUS, Mayfield pointed out that as more states join the consortium, it will become even faster and more cost-effective to implement. “The more states that come on, the more inventory we have and the lower the costs will be. Plus, the maintenance will be shared, among other things,” he said.
The Idaho Department of Unemployment is currently coordinating specifics and identifying goals with Iowa and Vermont with plans to begin coding the iUS updates in July 2016. The project is expected to take no more than two years to complete before iUS is launched in both states.
While the iUS rollout is starting slowly, the long-term goal is to expand the system to other states around the nation as demand increases for an affordable solution. “Funding keeps getting cut every year and for various reasons, we have to operate on a limited budget. In the IT world in the long run, a lot of the automation really saves dollars,” said Mayfield. “The more states we have, the more we’re sharing those costs. If we’re in a consortium and we’re all sharing that, hopefully we will see dramatic cuts in the annual costs.”
For more information on the Internet Unemployment System (iUS), please visit https://labor.idaho.gov/dnn/iUS.aspx.