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Project of the Week: Streamlining Data with Analytics

This week’s Project of the Week is brought to you by one of GovLoop’s 2011 Major Partners, IBM. As the year continues they will be present on GovLoop to help you with any Analytics questions you may have.

Dr. GovLoop recently caught up with Frank Stein of the Analytics Solution Center at IBM about how they’ve been of great assistance to Alameda County in California.

What are some of the key challenges that Alameda County faced prior implementing IBM’s SSIRS?

The genesis of the problem for the Alameda County Social Services Agency was the 2005 Deficit Reduction Act, which required social services agencies to meet a minimum work participation rate in order to maintain their funding. A second challenge involved meeting the regulations for managing foster care. According to Don Edwards, Assistant Agency Director, Alameda County California Dept of Social Services,

“we needed to know how well we were providing services to our kids, and whether we were doing all the right things that help them in their attempts to have a good life with their families.”

The agency was unable to respond to these and other regulations and mandates because of often-times inaccurate, incomplete and redundant data. They needed tools and systems that would allow for better alignment and tracking of departmental performance against their strategic objectives. The managers and executives wanted to track and report on key performance indicators to help reduce the gap between actions required and actions taken but the systems were too siloed and outdated to provide this sort of information.

Why did Alameda County choose this system?

Alameda County was looking for a system that could improve client outcomes, service delivery and client tracking, while at the same time reduce costs. The system IBM proposed contained a business intelligence front end with identity and relationship analytics, all built on a data warehouse and was selected largely because of its built-in analytics, ease of customization, and ease of use.

How does the SSIRS platform work and what does it do specifically?

The system is called the Social Services Integrated Reporting System or SSIRS. The system has 7 major functions: Production Reporting, Dashboard and Drill Down, Identity Matching and de-duplication, Integration with other systems, Monitoring, Communications, and Fraud Detection and Prevention.

All of these functions work together to solve the challenges mentioned above. For example, SSIRS gets feeds from existing systems such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), child welfare, juvenile probation, and employment systems. It can then provide to the case worker a detailed View of a Family including all the services and benefits they are receiving and a longitudinal view of how this has changed over time. The case worker is provided with alerts when some status has changed or when something is due, such as an appointment with a family member. This data integration and reporting helps to ensure that clients are eligible and receiving the correct benefits and it may identity other income sources that the family should be utilizing.

The system provides a longitudinal viewer and detailed drill-down reporting. Case workers can see where a client has lived, who she/he has lived with, and their children. Because of this longitudinal capability, it is now possible to ask the system “what happened after a foster youth aged out of the system? Did they end up in an emergency homeless shelter or other welfare program?”

What feedback have you received from Alameda County?

We’ve received very positive feedback. Don Edwards recently told us,

“We know there is nothing we can do now that we couldn’t do before, but an investigation that took months can now take five minutes and workers now have a dashboard and they can immediately get to the thing they need to do. Managers and executives now know exactly how we are doing.”

The system has given Alameda County the ability to aggressively reduce fraud. Prior to the deployment of SSIRS, benefit checks were sometimes sent to clients who were deceased, incarcerated, or not participating in required welfare-to-work activities. Don Edwards believes there are “many, many opportunities to save lots of money in the social service environment to improve benefits and to drive in revenue, but most importantly, if we can provide the right services at the right time—it gives us an opportunity to save some of these people.”

How can other local governments benefit from Alameda County’s experience?

Many government agencies are facing similar challenges to Alameda Country as they try to support ever increasing needs of their citizens, increased compliance requirements, and a shrinking budget. While they won’t all be social service agencies and able to replicate the SSIRS system, many agencies could benefit from an analytics system based on the same principles:

• Current (real-time) integrated view of their constituents across programs

• Real-time actionable alerts to meet compliance and program requirements

• Monitor and track “action required/action taken” gap across programs to achieve more effective outcomes

• Use longitudinal and client relationship analytics to improve service, find problems, and reduce costs

IBM offers many ways to get started on an agency’s analytics journey. We have a free Analytics Quotient tool on the web to allow customers to get a quick feel for how mature their agency is in the area of business analytics. We also have a lot of materials posted on the web…here and here. Our consulting services team is happy to discuss your business problems and how Analytics might be leveraged to solve these problems. In fact, you can connect with me and many of my colleagues in the Analytics to Outcomes group here on GovLoop.

To view the full case study complete with costs and best practices, click here.

The IBM Analytics Solution Center (ASC) is part of a network of global analytics centers that provides clients with the analytics expertise to help them solve their toughest business problems. Check out their Analytics to Outcomes group on GovLoop.

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