Case by case
Case management software could help employees automate routine tasks<@VM>Case management software helps performance
- By Jennifer Huergo
- Sep 14, 2007
GCN Illustration by Jeff Langkau
When most government managers think of electronic case management, they probably think of the FBI's Virtual Case File.
VCF was designed to allow field agents to easily share information about suspected criminal activity. But after four years of development and nearly
$170 million, the agency was no closer to a replacement to its outdated Automated Case Support system, and the program was shut down in 2005.
The FBI learned early what most agencies will learn sooner or later: Automating case management is a difficult task.
Case management is a broad term, and the software tools that support it are specialized for each industry, often for each organization. The Case Management Society of America, for instance, which represents nearly 11,000 members in the health care industry, defines case management as 'a collaborative process of planning, facilitation and advocacy for options and services to meet an individual's health needs.'
Despite the complexities, agencies are looking at electronic case management as a way to simplify operations. Within the government, case management software could be used to streamline any workload that involves medical, legal, personnel or other case-based process.
Federal and, to a lesser extent, state regulation has encouraged use of case management systems, said Jay Heiser, an analyst at Gartner. Such regulation has been 'generating greater requirements for the tracking of money laundering, whistle-blower support and all sorts of compliance tasks.'
One agency looking at case management software is the Tennessee Department of Human Services' Adult Protective Services (See GCN, July 30, 'Field Work'). The reasons the agency is doing so are typical.
Glenda Shearon, Tennessee's assistant commissioner for adult and family services, said her agency's goal is to automate the initial referral, development of the investigation and service plan, case management plan, and all the reporting.
The older mainframe system uses records data but offers no reporting capabilities. Nor does it offer an easy way to share information with the health care providers, attorneys or law enforcement officials who help ensure the safety of the state's vulnerable adults.
Case workers' handwritten notes from site visits are keyed into the service's mainframe system. Such a pen-and-paper system is not as consistent as the state would like. As part of the upgrade, an assessment scale has been developed to encourage consistency.
The rating scale would help prioritize a worker's caseload. And if a caseworker overlooked a case that needed immediate attention or if new information added to the file brought the case to a higher level, the software would automatically alert a supervisor or other appropriate person.
Using Lagan Human Services software, case workers should be able to upload reports from the field and easily share information with colleagues outside their own agency through a Web portal. The Lagan software will also provide tailored reports and automated alarms to help case workers and their managers stay on top of high-priority cases.
When the system goes live in summer 2008, Tennessee hopes it will help keep better track of those who receive their services and make such services more consistent for the recipients and more easily manageable for officials.Fraught with peril
So what went wrong with the FBI's VCF? A 2006 Government Accountability Office report said the agency lost control of its project by 'failing to define rigorously its requirements and manage its scope.' In a study commissioned by the FBI, the National Research Council found the agency's lack of enterprise architecture to be among the shortcomings that doomed the effort. The 2001 terrorist attacks shifted the FBI's focus from traditional law enforcement to intelligence, but the study found the case management system was not sufficiently modified to match the change.
The report found that the agency failed at what might seem a basic component of any system development ' getting adequate input from users. Instead, the council found the FBI's development process excluded users.
This is a common failing with case management systems, experts say.
To avoid nasty surprises, such as completing a development process and discovering an important data point has been overlooked, Lagan employs a team of subject-matter experts who have worked on both the public- and private-sector sides of human services. Also, Tennessee dedicated about 15 of its experts to develop the assessment portion of the system.
'One of the things we found works really well is to start with the reports,' said Claudia Langguth, vice president of human services at Lagan. 'One of the reasons these'very complex human services projects fail is because not all the requirements are captured.'
'I've been in human services for about 30 years,' Langguth said. My team and I 'have a pretty good knowledge of what's involved in human services, both at the state and at the local government level, and also at the federal level.'
'As with most projects that require business process re-engineering, organizational change management is always a challenge,' said Anthony Clayton, a partner at Keane Federal Systems, which has implemented a case management system for the Justice Department. 'To improve the acceptance of change, it is critical to ensure that not only senior management participates in the process, but to also obtain feedback and include the workforce as well. This reduces the risk of resistance to organizational change.'
Shane Pearson, vice president of marketing and product management at BEA Systems, cites understanding an organization's existing processes and selecting and prioritizing the right case management processes as among the challenges to implementing a solution at a customer's site.Vendors respond
Vendors that venture into offering case management face a tough market. 'It is very, very difficult to market and sell a product that is intended for simultaneous use by different organizational roles ' say security, legal and personnel,' Heiser said.
Vendors approach the field looking for ways to distinguish themselves.
With its Human Services Product Suite, Lagan endeavored to make configuration as easy as possible for users. For instance, if someone does forget a particular data element, the system's open architecture makes it easy to add it, Langguth said.
BEA Systems differentiates its business process management software by incorporating unstructured collaboration into its tools, Pearson said.
'Very few processes exist without a significant cycle of people thinking, talking, working together on documents, in meetings,' Pearson said. 'Social computing isn't just a consumer trend, it's a theme carrying over into the enterprise where people want support of structured processes and intuitive ways to capitalize on unstructured information relationships, knowledge and human interaction.'
For its work for Justice, Keane Federal Systems uses entelliTrak BI edition by Micropact, Keane partner Anthony Clayton said. He noted that the chief selling point for that software was that it worked easily with other software at Justice.
The software 'can be fully configured to capture all information relating to the security clearance process for employment and security checks,' Clayton said. 'It is already equipped to track, manage and report on virtually all personnel security data, events and procedures. Additionally, the tool can be easily incorporated in an agency's business process through flexible and configurable business rules, thus significantly reducing the development phase.'
For DOD and the intelligence community, real-time threats to the security of the United States are helping drive the increased adoption of case management software. For Tennessee's Adult and Family Services, the need to increase effectiveness has a less acute but very real urgency. 'If you look at our caseload statistics over the last four or five years, you can see an uptick every year' thanks to an aging population of baby boomers, Shearon said.
In many ways, Tennessee is an example for agencies that work with case files. Untold amounts of information, conscientiously recorded and preserved, face an uncertain future in filing cabinets and computer systems. The most useful tools will be those that lend themselves to easy adoption by agencies still stuck in a pen-and-paper world and allow users to communicate and share information more easily.
'Personally, I believe that it would be for the good of both government agencies and commercial organizations to break down some of the political barriers and find case management tools that are capable of supporting multiple internal functions, both reducing costs and facilitating coordination of complex investigations,' Heiser said. 'This is the exception, not the norm, unfortunately.'Case management systems are sometimes used to evaluate or manage performance by helping a supervisor see how well an employee is keeping up with a case load.
As the government moves toward more pay-for-performance compensation systems, case management tools could make or break an employee's salary.
'We're thinking that that's going to be the future of pay, that relationship with performance,' said Nancy Kichak, associate director at the Office of Personnel Management's Strategic Human Resources Policy Division. She explained that OPM's performance management policy and pay design groups are working together on how one's pay might ultimately reflect their performance.
The Defense Department already has an automated tool, the National Security Personnel System, which OPM helped test. 'Because that is a pay-for-performance system,' Kichak said, 'it was critical that the performance management system be valid.'
OPM does not make recommendations on the software and other tools agencies use, but instead helps them evaluate their processes.
The online Human Capital Assessment and
Accountability Framework Resource Center (www.opm.gov/hcaaf_resource_center) shows
supervisors examples of good performance management standards, best practices and what's being done at other agencies.
'Under President Bush's emphasis on human capital management, we are providing more tools, more feedback, more coaching to agencies,' Kichak said. The office coaches agencies on the four components of good performance management: planning ' setting clear and attainable expectations that reflect an organization's goals; monitoring ' the office recommends quarterly reviews to provide employees with feedback about whether they're achieving their goals; developing the individual ' managers are obliged to provide tools, training and other resources that might help the employee succeed; and finally, rewarding ' giving the appropriate reward based on the evaluated performance.
Although pay for performance has been the norm for private industry and the rarity for government, Kichak sees little difference between the two when it comes to performance management. 'Employees need to know how they're doing. [They] need to know what's expected of them. But the first step in the process, which is talking to the employees...that's the same whether you're in government or in the private sector.'