Pennsylvania flips switch on cloud unemployment system
This week, Pennsylvania begins migrating its unemployment compensation system from a 40-year-old mainframe to a new cloud-based platform.
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) signed a $35 million contract with Florida-based Geographic Solutions Inc. to lead the migration and manage the new system. By modernizing the overall process, the states hopes to “make it easier for Pennsylvanians who file unemployment claims to receive the payments to which they are entitled," Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) Acting Secretary Jennifer Berrier said in April when the upgrade’s timeline was announced.
The system will be offline for a week while the data is transferred to the new platform, which is scheduled to be operational June 8. If users flood the new system when it comes online, some will be sent to a virtual waiting room where they will wait until their requests can be processed. This process will prevent the system from becoming overloaded, which could cause latency or even crashes, officials said in a frequently-asked questions document.
For unemployed workers, employers, government staff and third-party administrators, the new mobile-friendly UC system should be much easier to use, give users provide faster access to relevant information and streamline the unemployment claim filing process
One new feature of the new UC system is the use of the Keystone ID, a secure online account management system that allows users to log into multiple online state services with the same credentials.
Some critics of Pennsylvania’s approach have warned that unemployment modernization projects are famous for delays, climbing costs and operational issues.
Waldo Jaquith, a government technology expert at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation, told Spotlight PA that the state’s “Big Bang” approach -- shutting down the old system entirely before bringing up the new -- leaves little room for the inevitable glitches. “One hundred percent of the time I advise against these things where you just flip a switch,” he said. “You are just setting yourselves up for trouble.”
William Trusky, the state’s deputy secretary for unemployment compensation programs, told Spotlight PA that “there will be bumps in the road.”
“These projects aren’t easy,” said Trusky, noting the last state to modernize at this scale was Florida in 2013, in a launch widely considered to be a huge failure. “It’s not easy to modernize and it’s certainly not easy to modernize during a pandemic.”
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