unemployment

Southeast states share unemployment benefits system

As the debate over the extension of unemployment benefits continues, state  insurance officials are wrestling with tight budgets and older systems overwhelmed by the flood of unemployment claims.

Now several states in the Southeast are working together to build a common system that can be shared between regional partners.

That's the goal of the labor agencies in Georgia, North Carolina and South Carolina. They have banded together in the Southeast Consortium Unemployment Insurance Benefits Initiative (SCUBI) to eventually replace their individual systems with a single, shared system.

The Labor Department in recent years has awarded grants to state consortiums such as SCUBI designed to improve overall program quality, accountability, performance and integrity. The consortia approach minimizes the cost of multiple states implementing expensive system redesigns, according to labor officials.

The consortium has picked Capgemini's Acuity Unemployment Insurance Benefits solution, a system that provides self-service portals for unemployment benefit filings and employer claim management. The system will reside in Xerox's cloud, giving the states the ability to ramp up resources during peak activity and bring them back down as needed.

The federal government dictates regulations for unemployment insurance – about 85 percent of those rules are common to all states. Therefore, it doesn't make sense for each state to spend $50 million to $60 million to develop and maintain individual systems, said Michael O' Malley, vice president of state and local government with Capgemini Government Solutions.

States are now seeing the benefits of aligning their common mandate into a single, shared system that also has the flexibility to address each state's unique requirements, he said. Capgemini is providing system integration and implementation services for the $60 million project that is expected to take three years to complete, O' Malley said. The first state should go live with system by late 2015 with the other two coming online in 2016, he noted.

However, converting data from two legacy applications and three different data sets into a new environment poses a challenge, especially when each state has its own IT administrators with different technologies and skill sets.

Tackling the challenge requires working closely with the states to assess and manipulate the data and integrate business processes. It also requires a governance structure that aligns IT and business strategies across all the states.

Work began in October 2013 with an emphasis on laying out project management plans, developing high-level designs and establishing a framework and guidelines for the program.

In December, the team moved into a general design phase where state-specific functions will be defined and validated. The project will be in a general design phase for a while, followed by technical design and component-level testing over the next 18 months, O'Malley said.

Changes in legislation such as a federal extension of unemployment benefits can often require extensive recoding of an UI system. To address that issue, Capgemini is using Oracle Policy Automation as the new system's business rule engine, which lets businesses modify rules without extensive recoding.

The goal is to "take [the UI system] out of the hands of developers and put it into the hands of sophisticated business users," O'Malley said.

Capgemini’s Acuity will also help the state employment agencies improve the timeliness and quality of information gathering and guard against improper payments, with a focus on prevention of incorrect benefit payments rather than recovery, the company said.

About the Author

Rutrell Yasin is is a freelance technology writer for GCN.

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