Like many government agencies, Arizona Department of Child Safety (AZDCS) operated on cumbersome, mainframe-based data infrastructure in need of an overhaul. But in the process of updating the system, CIO Linda Jewell and her team realized that a mobile-first strategy would not only facilitate future digital transformation but also enable caseworkers to better engage with the families they’re serving right now.
“We gathered all of the high-level needs and identified eight key pain points or problem areas for which we developed a strategy,” Jewell says. “Mobility — being able to access and update data in the field — was a major one. With a mainframe, you can’t exactly take a desktop with you to access your caseload. So, solving this really simple problem — being able to access data, enter case notes, and more quickly determine if a child is in harm’s way — was a big step forward to bringing our agency and our workers into the modern era.”
Not everyone was initially convinced. Other agency executives believed that a complete overhaul of the system was needed first before the mobility initiative could be successful, says Jewell, who persisted and was ultimately given the go-ahead to pursue the mobility piece first, a project that went on to win a CIO 100 Award in IT Excellence.
Mobile-first for case workers in the field
In the field, AZDCS caseworkers need to be able to efficiently and effectively conduct assessments of child safety, a process that includes completing digital forms and performing signature capture, while meeting encryption standards and storage requirements of the agency’s backend case management system. That meant a mobile solution capable of capturing video, audio, and photographs — and one that could integrate with the existing AZDCS legacy system and adapt to any new case systems the agency would develop in the future.
“We needed a cloud-hosted environment; we needed the ability to talk to our mainframe system and talk to the new system when that’s up and running. There’s a lot of places in Arizona without cell service, so we needed to work offline, secure and store data, and then be able to sync and upload that later and then deploy mobile device management so we could remotely wipe tablets,” Jewell says.
Most vendors offer a platform-based solution that would then provide mobility, but that didn’t fit, Jewell says.
“I didn’t want to choose a platform that would determine what mobility would look like. I wanted to be able to build out from our own backend; solve one or two of these business problems and then continue to do what we needed to do with our own backend,” she says.
Ultimately, AZDCS chose Diona, a cloud-based, mobile-first software solution customized for health and human services. In adopting the product, Jewell says there was some necessary technical skills development around web interfaces and integration via open APIs on her team’s end, but the biggest challenge was around process, policies, and organizational change management.
“We had a lot of little things in the build process to onboard these skills — I’m about to hand these caseworkers tablets and technology they hadn’t used in this way before, and they had to know how to secure those. We had to change our policy and process around accepting electronic signatures. We had to do a bit of iterative development, which we hadn’t done before. It was a lot about organizational change management, too,” Jewell says.
A major contributing factor to the success of this phase of the project was that the business stakeholders in the agency were simultaneously working to streamline the organization and its business practices, Jewell says. Without that concurrent process and policy shift, things might have turned out differently.
“Those efficiencies have allowed our project to be more successful in terms of adoption. We could not have deployed 1,400 tablets and have them used consistently if the business had not standardized their processes,” Jewell says.
The new mobile solution gives caseworkers access to powerful agency systems, anytime, anywhere via an intuitive, easy-to-use tablet, and is enabled by a cloud-based platform that is secure, robust, scalable, and reliable, Jewell says. The solution provides mobile applications for both case management and investigations and is accessible even when no internet connection is available.
With the mobile solution, case workers have the necessary functionality, applications, and connectivity on their device, so they can effectively and productively engage with children and families in the field. Caseworkers can download case files, information, appointments, maps, GPS, communications, notes, historical data, and audio/video recordings, and gather client input such as interviews, electronic signatures, documents, and photos. Security features such as data encryption, mobile device management, and the ability to instantly “brick” or erase a lost or stolen device ensure child and family data is secure and protected.
“When I started advocating for this in 2015, it was not a popular decision to do a mobile-first strategy,” Jewell says. “But I knew driving our tech strategy around mobile was the right decision. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo if you know you can drive innovation, better serve your organization and clients, and accelerate digital transformation.”