Explore More Government Resources
One of the oldest counties in the State of Washington, Island County is aptly named. The county is comprised entirely of an island chain, including Camano and Whidbey Islands, on the northwest coast. Island County is approximately 517 square miles in size with a population of 86,000.
The Challenge: Disconnected technology was creating roadblocks to delivering client care
Island County, Washington’s Human Services Department was in desperate need of case management technology to ensure the needs of the people they serve are being met.
These are important programs, put in place to make sure people in need or in crisis are not alone. Anyone experiencing homelessness, substance abuse, lack of food or other issue is connected by Human Services to agencies and programs that can help.
The challenge was around the supporting technology. Each of the 12 programs was using different technology—mostly spreadsheets—to track and manage cases, and each was doing it separately, creating silos. This was a problem because one person might qualify for and even be involved with more than one program, but there was no information being shared between those programs.
Unless a case manager happened to hear that a person was in another program, they would never know and would miss out on all the information associated with the other program. In short, case managers were using 1980s technology and word of mouth.
“Coordination had to be intentional,” said Joel Askey, the programmer and database administrator charged with finding a solution. “It’s not part of the framework they are working with, so they had to create the coordination themselves.”
The simple fact is that Excel and the like were not made for case management and the associated specialized processes and requirements—namely, programs cannot see information about clients they share with other programs or departments…and that has an impact on care and outcomes.
This is a familiar story to any organization with a case management component, whether through a government or a non-profit. Likewise, most don’t have much in the way of budget to procure the technology that can address these issues.
Fortunately for Island County, funding became available, so the search began. “Initially, we looked at some off-the-shelf products, but the problem with those is that you’re forced into working the way they say they think you should work, and they’re not going to change it."
"There’s just no way to modify it,” continued Joel. “On the other hand, we don’t have the budget to write something from the ground up. But after interviewing people for their requirements, it was pretty clear to me that they needed a CRM system that was slightly specialized.”
The CRM solution would need to:
- Be cloud-based to support people in the field while protecting data
- Give access to baseline and milestone data for broad, organizational reporting to funders and other stakeholders
- Provide a robust, flexible framework that supports growth, multiple programs, and fast onboarding of new services
- Make it easy to set up program-specific workflows and collect data for reporting requirements
As a database administrator, Joel liked the idea of the entire county being seen as a “customer service app;” since the county has constituents and aspects that are customer-service adjacent, this approach made sense. With this idea in mind, and because the county is a Microsoft shop, Joel researched Dynamics 365 and concluded it was the right solution for the job.
Joel approached Microsoft for help with a Dynamics 365 Customer Service implementation, who connected him with HSO.
"Dynamics not only could meet our requirements, but there was already a solution designed for human services ... Not only does Dynamics adapt, but they [Microsoft] had actually already adapted it...a basic framework right up our alley and the perfect way to get a solution tailored to our needs without having to pay for development from the ground up."
The Results: A game changer with far-reaching impact
Even before the implementation was complete, Joel was seeing—and anticipating—the benefits.
“The cross-program visibility is going to be a big win,” said Joel. “When you can see into the history of a client or case…it’s a big payoff for everybody when everything is in one place, and people aren’t burning time hunting for files or pieces of paper or Outlook. Before, it was like going on an archaeology expedition to find what you needed.”
Another benefit is mobility for staff in the field who are working with populations like the homeless. Mobility helps programs make contact with clients in every way possible, regardless of where they are.
Joel also says it’s a big win to enable statisticians and epidemiologists to use data to provide metrics that can help assess the health of programs—and hopefully, actually drive programs.
“One of my challenges before was working with all these different departments, telling them not to keep data inside their departments in an Excel spreadsheet,” said Joel. “We need data to be enterprise accessible so that we can make better coordinated decisions across multiple departments, multiple specialties. Dynamics has eliminated that problem.”
Ability to grow
There’s also the ability to grow. Knowing that there is more need in the county, the department will be expanding programs and adding new ones. It’s a relief to Joel that he can, as an administrator, quickly add a new program and then associate people with it, so that they have users staffed and licensed, ready to go. They’ll generally use the same workflows, but Dynamics has the flexibility to accommodate differences. Joel sees in Dynamics 365 a cutting-edge solution, not something the department will outgrow in two years.
“I can’t tell you how excited I think our users are going to be for this. It’s huge; it’s orders of magnitude better than what they’ve got right now,” continued Joel. “I’ve been involved in different technical projects where you know you’re going to save millions of dollars a year, or somebody’s going to make more money, or a business is going to be more profitable.
“But in our case,” he concludes, “we’ve got people who just really need help and understaffed programs trying to help them. We’re making their job easier and helping them gain insight into how to help those people. It’s a big human win for the people being served and for the people trying to serve them.”