Vermont sets a data baseline

Jeff Cohen says Vermont's new child support system will allow for data analysis and speedier reports, and let workers keep up with annual federal changes.

Jeff Cohen likes the old adage, 'What gets measured, gets done.' The director of the Vermont Child Support Office said he believes he can improve his office's performance if employees use data to guide their decision-making and to set a baseline from which to measure how well the office provides services.

To achieve this goal, the Child Support Office received a three-year, $1.8 million grant from the Health and Human Services Department to develop a system to improve data collection and create an application design guide for other state and local government offices to use when building similar systems.

'This is not just a narrow business process project,' Cohen said. 'We are trying to develop a data warehouse that integrates all aspects of our strategic plan and provides us with outcomes to develop metrics in all of the areas we work in.'

The Child Support Office collects and shares client case data and reports to HHS the amount of money it collects from parents who owe child support.

Federal requirements

'Every state is organized based on federal laws and regulations; we all have certain objectives to meet,' Cohen said. 'The funding for these programs is based on how you perform, so if we can improve performance by using the data, states and local government offices could easily follow our path.'

As the office enters the final year of the grant, the system, which is being developed in phases, is already providing results. Cohen said the application, which uses software from Business Objects Americas Inc. of San Jose, Calif., provides ad hoc reporting for supervisory staff, data mining modeling to predict client behavior and data analysis.

Dana Dean, the IT manager for the Office of Child Support, said the contractor, Buchanan & Edwards of Alexandria, Va., is installing Business Objects' Web Intelligence and BusinessObjects applications, as well as Application Foundation software.

The system runs on Dell 6650 and 2650 servers, and information is stored in a Microsoft SQL Server 2000 database.

Cohen said the new system replaces a 20-year-old IBM Corp. mainframe system using software coded in natural language and running an Adabas database from Software AG of Germany.

'The old system makes reporting extremely difficult, expensive and time-consuming,' Dean said. 'We had no insight into our business processes because the data was two-dimensional.'

Dean said when the new system is finished by September next year, child support workers will be able to 'slice and dice' data, fill out the annual reports that go to HHS in a few weeks instead of months and modify the reports more easily.

Cohen said the old system was so difficult to modify that workers rarely completed all the modifications each year necessary to keep up with federal changes.

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