Evaluating Human Services Technology in Times of Uncertainty

By Rupam Chokshi    October 2, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many human services agencies to take a step back and evaluate if current technology and processes have kept up with this latest shift in the landscape. You may be wondering:

  • Has our solution held up as we’ve adjusted office-based processes for remote work?
  • Have we identified any new opportunities to increase efficiency and better serve clients with additional tools?
  • Where can we shift to cloud-based, software as a service (SaaS) models?
  • Can we leverage any emergency funding (e.g., Coronavirus Relief Fund) to buy what we need?
  • What’s our vision for the future, and what can we do today to start moving toward it?
  • How will policy changes allow for or potentially require new technology to meet requirements?

It’s exciting to imagine the positive impact you can make with new and emerging technology, but it’s also overwhelming to navigate all the options available—especially as we all look for a path forward through the current period of health and economic crisis.

That’s why Northwoods recently published a technology toolkit to help agencies make more informed decisions when planning for, purchasing, and implementing new tools, covering topics like:

Prioritize the problem.
Today’s agencies face a myriad of business problems, meaning decision-makers are inundated with potential tools and technology solutions that could solve each one. When everything seems to be the top priority, how do you decide where to focus? Dig into root causes and access a downloadable matrix to help you identify and quantify your most pressing problems.

Assess your readiness.
Is my agency willing to change? Do we have the resources to be successful over time? Stepping outside your comfort zone can seem scary, but with a little preparation, it doesn’t have to be. Find surveys, self-assessments, and other tools to evaluate your agency’s readiness for change.

Search for a solution.
You’re ready to search for a solution; now what? It’s important to carefully consider all options available to find the right one to meet your agency’s unique needs. Build or buy? Cloud or on-premises? COTS, customize, or configure? The goal is to help you choose a solution designed to enhance service delivery, align with key agency initiatives, and support workers’ current and future needs.

Evaluate vendors.
Human services agencies need partners willing to learn every aspect of the business. It’s easy to get distracted by smoke and mirrors—vendors who claim to have this expertise but don’t—so it’s important to know how to separate the two. Learn how to build a long-term relationship with your partner to fuel innovation while meeting technology goals and mission-driven objectives that align with your future vision.

Create a business case.
Getting support from decision-makers, end users, and other key stakeholders early on is critical to set up a technology project for continued success. It starts with crafting a compelling, cohesive story that will position your agency to overcome potential roadblocks you may face. Access downloadable templates and ideas to effectively provide a cost-benefit analysis that demonstrates both the hard ROI and societal value that technology provides.

Find the funding.
Successfully financing technology projects requires agencies to leverage multiple funding streams, manage the cost-effective use of resources, and demonstrate that funding has a measurable impact on agency outcomes. See how combining strategic planning, creative thinking, and business acumen can help knock down funding-related hurdles.

Think beyond the technology.
Organizational process change is often the riskiest yet most overlooked aspect of implementing new technology in human services. That’s why it’s essential to evaluate the whole scope of a project: How is it managed, implemented, supported, and optimized over time? What’s the long-term value/total cost of ownership? Learn how to plan for potential risk factors from the get-go to increase your agency’s chances of meaningful change and sustained user adoption.

Download the guide, “Technology Toolkit: An Essential Buyer’s Guide for Human Services,” for more insight on planning, purchasing, implementing, and optimizing technology.

About the Authors

Rupam Chokshi

Director of Portfolio Management

Rupam Chokshi is director of portfolio management for Northwoods and a previous APHSA Emerging Leader (2018). Rupam is a firm believer that while technology is constantly evolving, it should always be rooted in solving problems. Through this lens, he helps agencies understand how to free up their time to focus on the most important aspect of their jobs—their clients.

Evaluating Human Services Technology in Times of Uncertainty

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