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California Details Comprehensive Unemployment Modernization

A new claims portal is in place and call center upgrades are ongoing as state officials make large-scale changes to the technology behind Employment Development Department services. Next up: an RFP to replace the mainframe.

The words "Employment Development Department" on the outside of a gray building.
In March 2020, when businesses shuttered for what many imagined would only be a few days or weeks, the California Employment Development Department’s (EDD) multi-year nightmare was just beginning.

The department would see its hundreds of thousands of annual calls skyrocket into the millions, all from Californians desperately trying to access unemployment insurance and other critical benefits. The simple and harsh reality of the situation was that old technology and chronic underinvestment had set the stage for a large-scale crisis.

Department call centers were overwhelmed, decades-old legacy technology was struggling under the weight of 16 percent unemployment, and the opportunists were doing everything they could to defraud the system, EDD spokesperson Gareth Lacy told Industry Insider — California.

“The one benefit of all of that challenge is that we're really battle-tested, we came out knowing the limitations of our technology, and the limitations of our staff and processes. And so we could design something new that could withstand much more challenge. We are basically rebuilding EDD from the top to the bottom,” he said.

Part of this rebuild is EDDNext, a sweeping modernization of the many touchpoints that benefit-seekers and staff interact with daily. This includes a new claims portal, a hard look at call center technology and even an upcoming request for proposal (RFP) to replace a nearly 45-year-old mainframe system.

EDDNext Deputy Director Ron Hughes and his team took the hard-learned lessons of the pandemic and began prioritizing components that would have the biggest and most immediate impact — starting with the claims intake portal.

“The first step was we fixed the problem with filing a claim online,” Hughes said.

“We implemented a Salesforce-based, shared customer portal that we call MyEDD. It’s a modern portal that includes multifactor authentication, ID proofing, etc. That scales infinitely; it’s cloud-based on AWS,” he added.

Equally important for the public was the ability to reach a representative when help is needed. As Hughes and Lacy explained, EDD call centers suffered and stumbled when stress-tested by the millions of calls.

“We had a legacy contact center. And so we are in the process of implementing AWS connect; we just cut over the first office in Fresno, actually, on Wednesday of [last] week. That went great,” Hughes said.

The Fresno implementation is focused on the disability insurance branch, which has not seen significant investment and was badly in need of modernization, Lacy said. That project will set the tone for broader expansion to other branches across the state.

Those watching EDD for bidding opportunities would be wise to keep an eye out for an upcoming solicitation to replace the department’s 45-year-old claims management system. Hughes said the mainframe-based system has been a costly pain point, not to mention a challenge to adapt to modern needs.

“It’s really challenging whenever you have to make changes. It’s time-consuming, it’s expensive, and quite frankly, there just aren’t that many people around anymore who know how to program on a mainframe,” he said.

“We’re in the process of writing the RFP for what we call the integrated claims management solution. It’s going to be a new system. It’ll be cloud-based, again fully scalable, and should solve a lot of those problems,” he added.

EDD is also in the process of procuring a replacement for its 25-year-old document management solution. That contract is likely to be awarded next month.

"People don’t realize this, but we hit approximately 15 to 20 million paper claim forms this year; we have to process all of those. Our document management solution is a huge part of our system," Hughes said. "The document management solution that we had was 25 years old, never really been modernized, so we are in the process of procuring a new solution that will use all the current technologies to make us much more efficient."

The state’s current budget predicament — a $27.6 billion deficit — and newly announced 8 percent cuts to nearly all agencies, doesn’t have Hughes too worried about the future of the project. The pandemic highlighted what can happen if investments are pushed out too far, and he said leadership at all levels is invested and willing.

This story first appeared in Industry Insider — California, part of e.Republic, Government Technology's parent company.
Eyragon Eidam is the web editor for Government Technology magazine, after previously serving as assistant news editor and covering such topics as legislation, social media and public safety. He can be reached at