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Smarter Is: Delivering Social Services Where They’re Needed Most

Integrated reporting supports social services caseworkers by delivering the information they need, when they need it

Much of the time, data management work is all about schemas and SQL, or TCO and ROI. For caseworkers at California’s Alameda County Social Services Agency (Alameda SSA), however, the ability to work with data effectively means more than just another percentage point on the revenue line. The agency delivers services and assistance that help people get back on their feet—a helping hand that’s in demand now more than ever.

But with state and federal budgets pinched, qualifying for grant money is getting tougher. For example, under California’s Deficit Reduction Act, the work participation rate (WPR) of welfare recipients must be at 50 percent; otherwise, the welfare agency may face stiff fines. And to qualify for a federal Title IV-E block grant, agencies must generate performance metrics on a daily basis to prove that the allocations are creating the desired effect.

Alameda SSA leadership knew that one of the best ways to support its caseworkers was with up-to-date, accurate, organized information—no simple task for an agency that has more than 2 million active records. “We needed to give our caseworkers direct access to information about their cases, at the individual case level. We needed to give the workers the right information, on the spot,” says Don R. Edwards, assistant agency director for Alameda SSA.

Because Alameda SSA caseworkers handle as many as 600 cases each, it was difficult for them to keep up with changes that needed immediate attention and action. Birthday notifications, for example, can be important: a child turning 18 could qualify his or her family for new benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps. Working with IBM, Alameda SSA implemented a Social Services Integrated Reporting System (SSIRS). Based on IBM DB2, it combines IBM InfoSphere Identity Insight Solutions with IBM Cognos business intelligence (BI) software and an IBM InfoSphere Warehouse Enterprise Edition database delivered on a preconfigured IBM InfoSphere Balanced Warehouse D5000 to create a powerful data warehouse.

Alameda SSA chose DB2 in keeping with its philosophy of having all system components provided by one vendor—in this case, IBM. “This gives us better integration of software and services, and it reduces the complexity of the project,” says Edwards. “Plus, DB2 is robust software that enhances our backup and recovery processes.”

SSIRS enables Alameda SSA to generate the data it needs to demonstrate it is reaching its WPR goal and to secure additional funding. Before the project even began, the agency secured major funding from The Casey Foundation, a private philanthropic organization that was eager to see how effective a BI analytic data warehouse would be in improving the lives of the children in Alameda SSA’s care.

The DB2-based system also helps reduce waste in welfare-to-work and child care programs; it can help Alameda SSA save up to US$11 million and make it possible to direct funding and resources where they are needed most.

“[SSIRS is] helping us reach out to those who need us, making sure they don’t fall through the cracks,” says Edwards. “It’s about using our resources wisely and effectively to improve people’s lives, better than we ever could before. This system is helping us in our fight against poverty in Alameda County.”