Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Techies Talk Tech at SAWCA ACC 2015

Delece Brooks (GA). Matt Bryant, Fran Davis (KY), Christine Dicken, and Roger Williams (VA) participated in a panel presentation at SAWCA's All Committee Conference this morning. Larry White of Louisiana moderated. They addressed the technological retooling of computer systems, databases and processes by state agencies that manage workers' compensation.

Christine provided an overview of the process of planning and mapping the development of computer and technology tools. She described the interaction with end-users early in the process, determination of key elements for the tool, and charting the various elements that will be part of the tool. This "tool" could be a website, a case management process, or other software. 

She described how information is solicited, organized, analyzed and then presented. A key in the discussion is that various constituency groups and audiences may have dissimilar interests and needs. What is the purpose of the tool, who does it serve, and what should it accomplish for them? The tool should be effective in addressing needs and concerns in a broad perspective for as many end-users as practical.

She described that this benefits everyone in the process, including the vendor that will produce the tool. An overall plan on the front-end of a program evolution can prevent the need for changes and re-writes later in the process.

Matt Bryant noted that these discussion of modernization and programming are a recurring theme. He noted that there seem to be a large number of workers’ compensation agencies and entities currently are in a process of updating technology. He noted that there is a great deal of information coming into these agencies. He posits that a prime goal of the tool creation process is to identify the relevant information within these masses of information. He described that programs can be developed to find the "diamond in the rough" of the massive document filings in state programs, second injury funds, and more.

Roger Williams noted that Virginia went on line with its electronic filing in the Fall of 2008. Virginia was a paper-based system that transition to paperless at that time. He noted that Commissioners during that transition period did not have the expertise to plan or coordinate software development. Commissioner Williams advocated that any agency working through a re-tooling should have an agency employee, a “go to” person, that has enough expertise to understand complications and problems, and able to communicate effectively with whatever vendor is selected to build or modify the tool.

A key reason for these database and programming tools is solving problems for the public. This may be because the public is the end user. It may also be that the tool makes the agency more effective or efficient in providing service to the public, thus the agency personnel are the end user, but the public is a beneficiary. As the customer's systems and computer capability changes, the state agencies might also have to evolve. The process from Commissioner Williams' perspective is ongoing. He notes that re-tooling is not a destination, it is a journey. 

He notes that finding and keeping qualified information technology professionals is difficult. Commissioner Williams said that Virginia has expanded its information technology staff markedly to develop and operate these new tools. He also noted that there are likely to be competing interests within the agency. Each function within an agency may seek its own tools and system upgrades. There may therefore be competing interests internally, seeking devotion of programming and other resources. 

Resistance to change is a consideration. Anything that is different may cause anxiety to participants in any marketplace, including workers' compensation. Commissioner Williams, as an example, described his reluctance in giving up paper such as his diary/planner, when Virginia moved to an electronic process. He says he would not return to the paper process, but admits it was not an easy transition for him and many others.

Georgia has a ten year old claims management system. Delece Brooks described their system and claimed that Georgia was the first in the country to deploy an electronic filing system. Five years ago, the agency launched a re-tooling with a project manager and new programming. With personnel changes and leadership changes, the re-tooling process became mired and unresponsive. She described her assumption of leadership as Executive Director five years ago, and the presence of new Commissioners. 

The agency underwent an audit process to identify their strengths and set new goals for deploying  new process and system. Through that critical review process, the Georgia Board identified flaws, set goals, and charted a course that has resulted in the recent deployment of its second generation case management software. 

Ms. Brooks described the agency’s challenge in trimming staff and re-orienting positions, goals, and processes. She stressed repeatedly that a project manager is critical to the process of anticipating needs, adjusting for competing interests, and building a platform that functions appropriately and effectively for all of the constituencies. Having the right staff in the right positions to utilize technical skills is seen as critical at the outset. 

Fran Davis stressed that agencies have many competing processes and responsibilities. She described the importance of understanding each business interest of the agency is critical. She encouraged agencies to spend time at the outset of re-tooling on understanding those various processes and addressing the concerns of regulatory, adjudicatory, and other processes. 

It is instructional to see states working to improve and deploy electronic capabilities. A Florida attendee afterwards expressed pride that Florida has already launched and maintained a state-of-the-art system. I am proud that our state-of-the-art system is world-class and has been developed and provided for a total cost to date of $1 million, far less than any jurisdiction of which I am aware. I am not sure when Georgia deployed their system but we are proud that e-JCC was deployed in November 2005. Happy tenth birthday eJCC.

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