The Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) is turning to business intelligence in order to make data more accessible by caseworkers and managers. As with many public sector agencies, Michigan DHS was looking for more efficient ways to manage resources for its program areas, which include food and cash assistance, Medicaid, child support services, and foster care for more than 1.4 million Michigan residents.
"We want to use data analysis to better identify our [aid recipients] and how we can best apply our limited resources," says George Noonan, manager of the central data unit for Michigan DHS field operations administration.
With the deployment of Business Objects' WebIntelligence, a query and analysis application, users at the agency can access more than 300 pre-defined reports with information on customers within specific program areas. The agency is using Microsoft Excel and Access as front-end views for users to run ad hoc reports as needed. "Power users" can view more segmented data -- including information on customer demographics -- and run real-time queries by logging directly onto the data warehouse. The application, Noonan says, also gives non-expert users an easy-to-read language, as opposed to encrypted data tables that could discourage wider adoption of the program.
Michigan DHS cut its administrative costs by 25 percent since the deployment of WebIntelligence, at least in part by shaving the amount of time it takes caseworkers to fill out forms. In the past, each caseworker had to fill out myriad forms to initiate new cases. To save time on data input and to minimize down time, caseworkers now employ a feature within the application that automatically populates the forms with necessary information.
According to Noonan, caseworkers can also get more complete information to better manage their caseloads. For instance, analysis was conducted to find out how many customers were enrolled in more than one of Michigan DHS' programs, and the results showed that 70 percent of foster care customers have also received cash assistance. By utilizing pre-defined reports, caseworkers can also determine important trends within program areas, such as analyzing reports or creating advanced queries that identify children in foster care or child protective services who may be at greatest risk for abuse.
The need for timely metrics was another area where Michigan DHS was hoping to see results, particularly in tracking the more than $500 million in food stamp and cash benefit programs. Now users can better track spending and perform analysis on exactly where the agency can reduce costs, Noonan says.
Issues of fraud and non-compliance affect all public health and human services agencies. They can prove costly and can even impair an agency's ability to operate. Michigan DHS' BI upgrades have helped save the agency $30-40 million dollars annually by identifying customers receiving cash assistance and services they are not entitled to and by avoiding penalties for failing to meet compliance standards with various state and federal privacy acts. WebIntelligence is only one way the agency is better analyzing data in order to save money and reduce cases of fraud. By integrating BI with various geographical data systems, users at DHS can assess the distribution of foster care cases in one region to determine if certain cases need to be re-evaluated.
While Michigan DHS has seen many improvements since deploying WebIntelligence, data consistency remains a challenge, says Noonan. "Different program areas have their own ways in which they treat information related to case load and recipient numbers," he says. "You can get different numbers based on how you write a query."