County’s integrated platform delivers client-focused social services
With HSD Dynamics, Maricopa County can easily share data with APIs, track metrics and automate manual tasks to ensure residents get the services they need.
Divisions of the Maricopa County, Arizona, Human Services Department (HSD) are sharing information more easily since replacing a decades-old offline, paper-based system with a cloud-based one.
HSD is responsible for delivering equitable, inclusive and comprehensive services for county residents experiencing adversity. It aims to use evidence-based approaches to ensure all community members have opportunities to thrive.
The department’s new system, called HSD Dynamics, is an integrated, modern platform based on Microsoft Dynamics 365 that is hosted in a specialized government community cloud. It uses application programming interfaces to securely send and receive confidential records related to county residents’ applications for and receipt of services. Additionally, its integration with Microsoft Power BI lets county officials track program metrics and employees’ effectiveness with data visualizations and reports. It also incorporates Microsoft Power Automate, which eliminates formerly manual tasks such as eligibility prescreening.
Before the county began rolling out HSD Dynamics in March 2021, the process was what HSD Director Jacqueline Edwards called clunky. Residents needing services could visit the department in person, call during business hours or mail in a paper application.
Those options took too long for people who had lost their jobs or housing or couldn’t pay utility bills. “When folks are experiencing adversity or are in crisis, waiting for the mail may not be the best option,” Edwards said.
Plus, many of the HSD applications were siloed. Employees processing applications had no way of knowing whether those residents were eligible for other forms of aid or were already receiving it.
“Any data shared between our internal programs and services would have had to be completed manually before,” Edwards said. “So, literally here’s an Excel spreadsheet, let me pull this information, let’s compare this together to even compare clients. What happened was that it didn't occur. There was [no] data sharing happening.”
The same was true for working with partners outside the department, she added. “Whether it’s referrals or services that we had requested for someone else to provide to the client, everything had to be done on paper,” Edwards said. “Now we have the centralized system in which we can share information easily, and it is set up with an API so that we can integrate or coordinate that data sharing with key partners more effectively.”
HSD Dynamics has two portals, one for residents, or clients, and one for partners. Residents apply for a service on the client side, which involves setting up an account and answering high-level screening questions about the assistance they seek. The system automatically confirms their potential eligibility for all services they might qualify for, not only the one they’re requesting.
“If they came to use for rental assistance, if we identify in there that [applicants] are also potentially eligible for utility assistance or workforce training services or our early education or funeral assistance or one of the other myriad services that we have, we proactively tell them,” Edwards said.
Next, residents select what they want to apply for, and the system provides the related detailed applications, automatically pulling some information from the initial screening tool. “There are common elements across the applications so we’re not making people give us the same information 13 different times,” Edwards said.
Applicants can upload any required documents into the portal, which provides status updates as the application moves through the evaluation process.
“It’s really going from this paper-heavy, very manual system … to this much more effective system that is client-focused and allows our staff to be really efficient and effective in their service delivery,” she said. Currently, there are 40,000 client accounts.
It’s also highly secure, Edwards added. The department worked with its IT consultant, RSM, and Microsoft to develop role-based access to ensure that staff can access only the information they need. HSD has almost 400 staff licenses; program partners and providers don’t need a license to use the system.
“What it also does with this security piece is allow us to establish internal controls based on positions and make sure that there are the appropriate levels of approval before an application is finally approved or funds are distributed or additional program activities occur,” she said. “For overall governance, the great thing about this product is that it does meet and fall under the county’s overall IT governance structure. It has the firewalls set up. Our client portal and our partner portal are separate modules from the core HSD Dynamics.”
Still, residents are not required to use the system. Those who are tech-averse can visit HSD’s client contact center, where employees can, by phone or in person, walk applicants through the technology.
On the back end, managers can see how long it’s taking staff to process applications compared to their goals. Plus, it lets employees see through a visualization where they are in their workload. “When applications come in, we have it set up in queues,” Edwards said. “It’s a one-stop view of how many applications do we have, and then we’re able to assign them to staff.”
Another benefit of the system is employee tracking, Edwards said. If overall performance is not where we expected, “we’re able to say, ‘It’s not just this one staff member, it’s all of these staff members. Is this a training issue? Is this a good expectation that we have on what the performance should be?’”
HSD began phasing out the old system in March 2021. Its Community Services Division, which delivers emergency financial support for rent, mortgages and utilities to eligible county residents, became the first to use HSD Dynamics. HSD is currently working to bring its last big division onto the platform and to translate the client portal into Spanish, since about 32% of the population identifies as Hispanic or Latino.
“We see HSD Dynamics as a living, breathing system,” Edwards said. “There’s not ever going to be a point in which we say it is done. We’re going to apply those continuous improvements.”
Stephanie Kanowitz is a freelance writer based in northern Virginia.