Some states leveraging SOA to streamline benefits systems

Lower revenues and budget cuts continue to dominate the agendas of state governments. Yet, demand for human services such as unemployment insurance and welfare benefits have seen a dramatic increase as people find themselves struggling and out of work. In this environment, many states are looking for ways to streamline their benefits systems to cut costs and managed the increased workload. CivSource spoke with Accenture, which provides benefits system integration services to several states about their efforts and what states can do.

Accenture was recently awarded a five-year contract by the state of Kansas to develop and implement a new benefits eligibility system, known as the Kansas Eligibility and Enforcement System (KEES). The KEES project will use the Accenture Public Service Platform (APSP) to provide residents with an online portal to learn about what benefits they are eligible for. On the back end, public officials will be able to manage cases across entitlements through the use of a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) approach.

Kansas chose the platform for its ability to let officials integrate cases across benefit programs including Medicaid. APSP offers a modular technology approach which will allow officials to update their eligibility system over time, but offer new faster, online options to state residents in the short run. An online self-service portal for eligibility screening that residents can use is expected to be online within the first nine months of the Kansas project start.

CivSource spoke with David McCurley, managing director of Accenture’s public-sector software business, about the benefits of utilizing a SOA approach for human services. “The SOA tools have been designed specifically to help eliminate agency silos, build cross-program coordination and support, enable citizens to interact with case workers, and provide a new channel for state outreach to the citizens being served,” McCurley said.

SOA is an architectural approach designed to connect disparate systems. SOA originated out of the enterprise technology arena, but technology providers have leveraged this knowledge to create an approach specific to the unique needs of public services which often contain more detailed requirements and sensitive information. Platforms such as APSP work with a state’s current technology to enable incremental upgrades through a combination of commercial off-the-shelf, custom build and transfer solutions. Incremental updates allow both public officials and individuals to experience improvements in service delivery without significant interruptions.

McCurley notes that in several states, caseworkers are often forced with taking paper applications and re-entering information into cumbersome case systems. This process is also repeated with every benefit an individual applies for, creating significant system redundancy. “The basic information, address, name, family details, etc of an individual applying for benefits is going to be the same no matter how many benefits they apply for. With a global architecture in place, you can create a system that lets an individual enter it once, and lets caseworkers call that information up without having to repeat.”

Idaho recently worked with Accenture on implementing their platforms, to help cut back on costs and redundancy. Lori Wolff, Deputy Administrator, at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare noted that after the solution and business processes were in place, employee training time for new workers decreased by 25%. Additionally, even while the solution online, the office did not experience an increase in backlog and was able to continue processing applications without interruption.

Legacy systems in state governments often date back over 30 years. SOA can work with these legacy systems while implementing more current modules to fit immediate needs. This also allows public officials to future proof their back-end systems by creating a global platform that is already prepared to manage both legacy and new technology.

According to McCurley, “Originally, with legacy systems you could get 10, 15, 20 years from them because the curve of technology advancement was much slower. Now, software may come to end of life much more quickly because our advancement curve has exponentially increased. SOA helps you mitigate that and adds years to the life of the overall system.”

Accenture has already made a significant investment in working with state human services professionals on how to approach SOA for public service. The company has developed its own Institute for Public Service and is also working with Harvard University to create a community of practice centered around Human Services which holds a yearly summit for Human Services professionals to learn about and discuss how to cut operational costs while dealing with increased demand. The most recent summit was held in October.

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