4 lessons for upgraders

Experts offer these lessons for smoothing human services modernization projects:

  • Use modernization as an opportunity to streamline processes but don’t overestimate the appetite for change. “Implementing a major technological change at the same time that you’re implementing major policy and program change is asking a whole lot of your employees,” said David McCurley, a managing director at Accenture.

  • Give case workers flexibility. Texas’ troubled new system was built on the assumption that every case worker would follow a rigidly defined interview process. Determining a case’s eligibility for benefits required clicking through screen after predetermined screen – potentially more than 250 — state auditors reported in late 2007.

  • Involve case workers from the start. By the time user interfaces enter the usability testing phase, it’s often too late to make real changes, so gather users’ input from the start and keep doing it periodically. Also, know that not every county implements systems the same way. What’s optimal in a small county isn’t the same in a large county, said Rhonda Paxson, Colorado Benefits Management System applications director.

  • Don’t hard code eligibility requirements. Elected representatives will inevitably change social services rules in the future. Don’t be stuck with the difficult task of programming changes every time the legislature passes a new law.

About the Author

David Perera is a special contributor to Defense Systems.

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