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States dive into unemployment system upgrades

Kansas is taking a major step in modernizing its unemployment insurance system, issuing a request for proposals for updating its 40-year-old system.  

Problems with the legacy platform quickly became apparent when the pandemic hit, resulting in waves of record-high unemployment workers. “The antiquated technology was unable to keep up with the record volume of claims,” Gov. Laura Kelly said.  The state’s Department of Labor was forced to temporarily suspend its modernization efforts in order to focus on stabilizing the decades old system.

The state is looking for a comprehensive unemployment insurance systems that manages benefits, claims, appeals and tax applications. The solution must include secure data migration, integration with other state systems as well as partner systems, user self-service, case management, training, documentation and ongoing support, according to the request for proposals.

The modernization depends on legislative funding, the governor said. Kelly requested $37.5 million for modernization in her budget request, under consideration by the legislature, according to a report in the Wichita Eagle.

“It will not be cheap -- fixing a system that has been neglected for 40-plus years never is,” Kelly said. “But failing to act is not an option.”

Agile procurement

In Wisconsin, the Department of Workforce Development announced it was moving forward on modernizing its outdated UI system without legislative funding.

DWD is working with U.S. Digital Response, a nonprofit organization composed of thousands of volunteers focused on helping governments respond quickly and efficiently to support critical needs. USDR, which also helped Kansas shore up its legacy IT, will help lay the framework for DWD's modernization project, including developing short- and long-term goals and plans.

Thanks to $2.4 million in new federal funding, the department is also working with 18F, part of the General Services Administration’s Technology Transformation Services (TTS), to use modular contracting for the UI modernization.  18F will specifically be supporting with the state with user research, creating a procurement package, drafting a solicitation, picking qualified vendors and prototyping. The state workforce agency will do the final buys.

DWD officials said the department “plans to take an agile approach to modernization, prioritizing immediate needs first and bringing in vendors that can begin updating pieces of the massive IT infrastructure right away.”

Agile procurement “will reduce risk, improve outcomes, increase flexibility, and ensure contracts are awarded faster and to the most qualified industry partners,” TTS Director Dave Zvenyach said.

The first phase of DWD's IT modernization project will be an integrated cloud-based phone and messaging center that will enable 24/7 customer service claims help and will collect data on agent performance.

Web-based UI services

Hawaii is also in the middle of a UI upgrade.

Working with Solid State Operations, Hawaii’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations is replacing its legacy mainframe system designed in the 1980s with a web-based application. DLIR expects the cloud-hosted, software-as-a-service application to lower total costs and provide more flexible capabilities that will transform the way the department provides essential services to unemployed workers, to employers and to the U.S. Department of Labor. The company is also helping DLIR investigate overpayments.

Meanwhile, DLIR has set up a pilot appointment system for claimants to speak with unemployment staff via a Zoom meeting or over the phone.  Initially, the service will focus on Oahu with plans to expand to the neighboring islands. 

About the Author

Susan Miller is executive editor at GCN.

Over a career spent in tech media, Miller has worked in editorial, print production and online, starting on the copy desk at IDG’s ComputerWorld, moving to print production for Federal Computer Week and later helping launch websites and email newsletter delivery for FCW. After a turn at Virginia’s Center for Innovative Technology, where she worked to promote technology-based economic development, she rejoined what was to become 1105 Media in 2004, eventually managing content and production for all the company's government-focused websites. Miller shifted back to editorial in 2012, when she began working with GCN.

Miller has a BA and MA from West Chester University and did Ph.D. work in English at the University of Delaware.

Connect with Susan at [email protected] or @sjaymiller.

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