Despite challenges, state HHS departments modernizing their IT

The survey polled 67 agency program leaders from 35 states.

Slowly but surely, state health and human services agencies are recognizing the transformative potential of information technology, according to a report published this week by the American Public Human Services Association (APHSA) and Microsoft.

The survey, “A Promising Future for HHS Transformation – The Real Impact of IT System Modernization,” polled 67 agency program leaders from 35 states at various stages of modernizing their information technology systems, gauging the status of those who have implemented solutions for eligibility determination and benefit issuance, case management and online self-service – as well as those who had not yet modernized.

The report sought to learn more about agencies’ experience with organizational transformation planning efforts, the agencies’ system life-cycle challenges, and the impact and benefits the agencies experienced from IT modernization, say APHSA officials.

“Many states are taking a forward-thinking and visionary approach to transforming their programs and modernizing IT systems,” said Laura Caliguiri, managing director, U.S. Public Sector Health and Human Services, Microsoft. “Human services agencies are leveraging technology advancements and best practices, enabling an incremental strategy to ensure immediate benefits from the new systems and are able to accommodate policy and program changes.”

Its findings suggest that with strong leadership, due diligence and good program management practices, departments are seeing incremental benefits expected of IT modernization, officials say – but a number of challenges remain.

Some of the survey's takeaways with regard to IT implementation:

  • 43 percent of agencies have implemented a new HHS IT system within the past 10 years;
  • 57 percent have not modernized, although most (55 percent) plan to do so over the next three to five years;
  • 19 of respondents had no plans to modernize, mainly due to lack of funding;
  • 22 percent are very likely to consider the cloud for future system deployment. 

As for timing, 47 percent of agencies surveyed experienced an implementation timeframe of more than three years when implementing a new system, APHSA found. Long timeframes generally correlate to agencies with a larger number of business rules and practices to re-engineer complex IT environments with multiple legacy systems, requiring extensive training and support.

States with larger constituent populations also report longer implementation timeframes, but the programs themselves (e.g., Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Child Welfare, etc.) did not have a direct correlation.

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