Interview with Linda Jewell, Chief Information Officer at Arizona DCS

Linda Jewell is the Chief Information Officer at the Arizona Department of Child Safety. In this interview, she discusses their need for a digital transition, the top challenges she was looking to solve and how a mobile-first strategy proved to be a game-changer for the department. 

Thank you so much for taking our questions! Tell us a little about your business and your specific role?

The Arizona Department of Child Safety is dedicated to the vision that children thrive in family environments free from abuse and neglect. Our Department has over 2,700 employees who serve Arizona’s children and families. As highly motivated and caring public servants, the DCS team is committed to fulfilling this mission with excellence, providing safety and well-being for the most vulnerable population in Arizona – our children. DCS caseworkers have the strength, sensitivity, passion, and empathy to restore hope to children and families.

As for my role with the Department, I am the Chief Information Officer at DCS. I manage the IT Department, and plan and execute our strategic digital transformation.

When did you first realize that you had an issue that needed a digital solution? What was the nature of the problem you set out to solve?

A few years ago, we experienced a data breach with some of our hard case files. That’s when I realized our technology was stuck in the Stone Age, and we had no secure way to address incidents like this when our data was compromised.

At that time, we took a hard look at our system and realized we had three key challenges that needed to be resolved:

  1. Our legacy case management system, applications, and information were inaccessible, causing us to lose productivity.
  2. Vital case notes and client data could not be updated in real-time. This reduced our caseworkers’ efficiency.
  3. Paper-based information and files were vulnerable to loss or theft, potentially compromising both client privacy and data security.

What were the challenges you faced at the time as you began the process of evaluating solutions?

From an IT perspective, procurement is always a challenge. When we issued our initial RFP for the project, I expected to receive a flood of innovative ideas and proposals. But we received very few responses. There just weren’t a lot of vendors or people who responded to our RFP that understood what we were trying to do with technology in child welfare. Most of the offers were proposals to overhaul our backend system, but none that offered mobile solutions. As an agency, we didn’t want to replace our entire system which would have had an enormous impact on our frontline workers.

Also, we were an agency at that time that had no idea how to infuse mobility into child welfare. We didn’t have policies in place to support mobility such as electronic signatures.  In addition, we didn’t have the ability to implement mobility solutions on our own.

What did the final solution look like and what were the broad benefits that it delivered?

We decided on a mobile-first strategy.

By tackling mobility systems first and leaving the large back-end issues for later, we provided our caseworkers with usable, relevant applications immediately.

They didn’t have to suffer through the interminable wait of overhauling our back-end system before seeing the benefits of our technology transformation.

To accomplish this, we turned to Diona for help. With their assistance, we now have roughly 1,400 DCS caseworkers that can receive and deliver real-time data—anywhere, anytime, whether online or offline—through a government-cloud-based, secure, scalable, and reliable platform without the need for paper files.

In addition, we have:

  • Saved $18.7 million annually in departmental costs.
  • Boosted field access to its information system to 100 percent.
  • Improved caseworker efficiency by 20 percent.
  • Increased caseworker time spent with children and families.
  • Enhanced service quality and case outcomes.
  • Improved the quality of all data collected.
  • Implemented the complete solution in only eight months.

We also received a 2018 CIO 100 Award for implementing mobile technology innovations into our system.

What were some of the key elements that were responsible for the project’s success? What processes have you found useful for implementing digital technologies?

Our partnership with Diona was a major factor in our success. Diona provided us with the tools and support to carry out our vision. And our caseworkers have benefited tremendously from the partnership.

But this transformation would not have been possible without the foresight of our DCS leadership team.

You can’t drive these types of transformations solely from an IT perspective. You have to drive them from a department-wide perspective, which can only come from our top leadership. They embraced technology early on because they understood how technology could transform child welfare.

They recognized that agencies have to be willing to take risks and not get bogged down in conventional thinking.

As a result, we were one of the first states in the nation to break the mold in regards to technology and it has been a game-changer for child welfare in Arizona.

What was your biggest takeaway from this project?

Our biggest takeaway is we discovered a new process for how to implement and manage IT projects in future.

During this project, we eschewed a top-down approach in favor of letting our caseworkers guide project development.

First, we identified technology adopters out in the field. We called them champions. These were people who embraced change and had an open mind to new ideas and ways of doing things.

They provided us feedback. They helped colleagues navigate new technology.

They drove the testing, the rollout, the training and, ultimately, the adoption of the new technology.

This approach was such a success, we decided to adopt it for future projects.

What’s next for you on your digital roadmap?

The next steps are leveraging Microsoft Dynamics 365 for child welfare system replacement. So we have another cloud solution added to our toolbox.

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