In-Depth

WebFACTS lets Ohio county focus on the kids

WINNER: Application Management and Deployment

A key to success for any child welfare agency is ensuring that caseworkers can spend their time working with clients in the field rather than sitting at desks doing paperwork. A few years ago, the Montgomery County Children Services (MCCS) agency in Ohio sought to do that by building a Web-based system that lets caseworkers and counselors access data and document actions while working on child abuse and neglect cases in the field.

"Our motto is to make sure department information is available to [virtually all MCCS workers] anywhere and at any time," said Daron Raynor, manager of the agency's IT department. "We're a 24-hour a day, seven day a week operation, unfortunately, because we protect families. We want to make sure that case workers can access any information at any time."

Thus the agency's IT operation embarked on a project to streamline its investigative processes by eliminating several manual steps and providing instant access to information that allows workers to respond more quickly to emergencies. The project was undertaken by Raynor's small IT team and a group of consultants from Compuware Corp., Detroit.

Raynor said the agency's 176 field case workers currently investigate about 3,700 child abuse and neglect cases a year. Prior to completing work on the Web Family and Child Tracking System, or WebFACTS, each worker had to spend hours in the agency's headquarters to document and track case information on complex forms with pen and paper.

The information was then input into an old DOS-based system, written and run by the state of Ohio. That system did its job through the 1990s until the state IT operation was forced to re-write the system to bring the code up to Year 2000 compliance levels. It was then, Raynor said, that MCCS began looking for ways to improve its system by using the burgeoning World Wide Web. MCCS officials and caseworkers were "pretty much cut and dried on what we needed -- easy, 24-hour access to information. We knew we needed to use the power of the Internet," he noted.

Raynor said the unit realized the project was too large for his eight-person IT team, so Compuware was called in to help undertake a needs assessment and work with MCCS workers to compose a preliminary project plan and to estimate the resources needed for such a project. Once that was done, a 16-member team of eight MCCS and eight Compuware engineers along with a group of MCCS "subject matter experts" began the project.

Raynor said the team faced several challenges. For example, the project called for automating a process that had long been manual and had included many exceptions. The team had to identify each exception and account for all of it in the design and development of WebFACTS. The app also had to meet state-mandated reporting requirements, a difficult task for the state's first Web-based case management system.

The engineers used Microsoft's Visual Studio .NET toolset and the Windows 2000 Advanced Server to build the case management system. Compuware's DevPartner, QA Center and Vantage tools were used to test, debug and monitor the app's performance throughout the development process.

Raynor said the project took eight months to complete, and met the original project schedule. More than 90% of MCCS workers currently have Web-based access to agency data via the WebFACTS application. The case workers utilize laptop computers with cellular modems for immediate access to case information. "For example, when a call comes in, a case worker can immediately find warnings about things like dogs and firearms or whether the caller was a previous client," Raynor said. "We can now get this information in real time."

The next step is to add e-mail capabilities "so we can have a truly electronic office," Raynor said. MCCS engineers are currently at work on that project, he said.

Raynor conceded that implementation of the app could have run more smoothly had more attention been paid to "usability issues," such as mainframe terminal and Windows users having a difficult time adjusting to a Web interface. Thus, the adjustment and training period for much of the staff was longer than expected.

On the other hand, the decision to include MCCS engineers on the team allowed the agency to quickly take charge of running and maintaining the app, Raynor said. And, he added, the early success of the project has convinced the state to begin work on a similar project that will cover all of the other child welfare agencies in Ohio.

APPLICATION PROFILE

Project: WebFACTS Purpose: To Web-enable the management and tracking of child abuse and neglect cases in Montgomery County, Ohio.

Benefits: Provides instant access to information that allows workers to respond more quickly to emergencies.

Platforms: Microsoft Windows, Novell Network, Windows 2000 Advance Server, Solaris-based Sun server, Oracle DBMS TOOLS Visual Studio .NET, ASP.NET, VB.NET, DevPartner Studio, QA Center, ServerVantage, Internet Explorer 6.0, Crystal Reports 8.5, Visio, RoboHelp, Authorware, JavaScript

DEVELOPMENT TEAM
Daron Raynor, Laura McLaughlin, Steve Crawford, Victor Battle, Eduardo Uribe, Rose Moore, Alex Tsang, Christine Orringer

KEANE REPORT
Montgomery County Children Services (MCCS) needed a Web-based case management system that would enable its 176 caseworkers to more efficiently report and track cases of child abuse, enabling them to spend less time on paperwork and more time in the field where they could help families and children in need. The project's innovation lies in both its impact on the day-to-day operations of MCCS and the technology it employed to achieve the results. One of the challenges facing this project was to move MCCS from a manual to an automated environment. In addition to this significant cultural change, the project team had to develop a system that was flexible enough to handle numerous exceptions to the rules, and could adapt to changing state and federal government regulations. Within the social services sector, these represent innovative approaches to a complex, dynamic regulatory environment.

Team Leader: F. Bryan Gilbert is a Keane senior principal consultant with more than 30 years of experience. He is currently a member of the Center for Excellence where he serves as Keane's estimating program manager.

About the Author

Mike Bucken is former Editor-in-Chief of Application Development Trends magazine.

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