| October 27, 2015

Banita Jacks and he daughters fell through many cracks in the maze of government-funded human services in the District of Columbia. Jacks sought help at least 23 times from 11 different agencies, but their separate information systems made it difficult for any of them to obtain a complete understanding of the family’s desperate plight. Federal marshals finally visited their row house, where the mother had been living with her dead daughters’ bodies for more than 7 months. At her trail, Jacks claimed the children were possessed by demons, and she is now serving a 120 year prision sentence.
The poorly intergrated systems ledt gaint information gaps that hampered agencies trying to help. For example, Child and Family Services received an anonymous hotline tip that the mother must be neglecting the girls, but since the agency didnt have any home address, no caseworker followed up. Other agencies had an address but their systems didnt track the complaint. Teachers at the girls’ school attempted unsuccessfuly to contact the family when they were absent, but they knew nothing about the neglect charge. Information wasn’t shared and service workers who hanled the family’s requests rarely followed up.
Althought this tragic case led to investigations and a round of firings, the real problem was in the information systems. Agency directors want to transform the way these systems work by implementing an intergrated information system to share data. The agencies need the dame kind of customer-centic system that private industries have when thet install customer relationship management (CRM) software. In a financial institution, for example, employees in ifferent departments might see individual events that could be warning signs pointing to a dissatisfied customer. The broker might know that the customer sold stocks and moved funds to a cash account, or the retirement counselor might receive a call from the same customer, inquiring how to roll over an IRA. With an intergrated system, these individual events will paint a picture so that companyresp can follow up.
Nevertheless, CRM efforts in human services agencies face different kids of challenges comparesd to corporate CRM intiatives. First lawmakers must approve the project and provide funding. A project of this magnitude could run $ 10 million or more, and city officials are reluctant to spend such a huge sun on IT when budgets for shelters are being cut, despite overcrowding.
Another concern involves privacy. The Child and Family Services worker, for example, would need access to data on a family’s food stamps, disabilities, homelessness, health records and schooling. Privacy advocated objects to legislation that allows widespread access to so much personal information about chilrenat risk and homeless families because it impinges on cofidentiality. Striking a balance between privacy concerns and the desire to help these families is not easy.
Medical records are legally protected, thought knowledge about past history could help caseworkers identify problmes. For exaple one women was treated for mental illness many times, but a case worker who visited her home didnt have that information. Shereported no sgnificant problems in parenting; a few weeks later, however, the trouble mother tried to drown her children.
While confidentiality, privacy and funding are challenges, resistance to change alsp comtributes. Former DC Human Serviecs Director Clarence Carter suggests that many people just want to keep doing what they do, because that’s how they’ve always done it. “We are hired and held accountable for the administration of programs, not for the well’being of individuals. That has got to change,” said Carter. Adopting a CRM approach that involves listening to the customers and adapting services to what they need will help.


1. How did the previous lack of intergration impact the District of Columbia Department of Human Services’ ability to serve its clients?
2. With respect to the challenges involved implementing projects involving imformation systems, how does the public sector compare with the private sector?
3. How do privacy challenges in the social services context compare with challenges in other public services such as traffic enforement?
4.If you were the DC Human Services Director, what rationale would you use to gain aproval for the multimillion-dollar investment?
5. What is an example of how intergrating with the use of enterprise resource planning (ERP) can help an organization from research or your own personal experience?

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