The Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS), the state’s public assistance, child, and family welfare agency, directs the operations of public assistance and service programs through a network of more than 100 offices throughout the state.
Over the years, the agency faced growing demand for its services as well as increased complexity in managing its various programs. To better deliver on its mission of protecting vulnerable families from hardship, Michigan DHS embarked on a transformation of its public-assistance delivery IT systems, which included the creation of a new public assistance eligibility and enrollment system, known as Bridges. The new system consolidates the functions of three primary and multiple secondary systems that employees used to determine eligibility and benefit determination for Michigan residents seeking cash assistance, medical assistance, food assistance, and/or child care assistance through DHS.
To ensure a reliable, scalable, and cost-effective foundation for Bridges, Michigan DHS built the system on Oracle’s Java Platform, Enterprise Edition, and chose Oracle’s SPARC Enterprise M-series servers running Oracle Solaris 10, and Oracle Database 11g, Release 2. Michigan DHS is also using―and continues to use―SPARC Enterprise M-series servers and Oracle Solaris 10 to run core applications, such as its child protective services and adoption systems, and its back-office applications. It has also deployed its child support enforcement system on the same platform.
With Bridges and its new IT foundation in place, Michigan DHS is realizing significant benefits, including marked improvements in employee efficiency and output, the ability to more effectively and rapidly serve citizens in need, and a more stable, scalable, agile, and cost-effective IT infrastructure. As a result, it can now more effectively support eligibility determination, caseload tracking, payment disbursement, and reporting for the more than 2.2 million residents who rely on state benefits. In economically challenging times, it has substantially increased the number of cases the department is able to manage and has improved processing accuracy and efficiency without having to hire additional caseworkers.
Prior to implementing Bridges, Michigan DHS ran a legacy welfare delivery environment that consisted of multiple mainframe-based systems that separately handled eligibility determination, caseload tracking, payment disbursement, and reporting. The legacy process required workers to use three separate, nonintegrated data systems just to complete the end-to-end application―resulting in limited visibility, duplicate client reporting, and an inefficient, laborious process for caseworkers.
In 2006, Michigan began the nations’ largest legacy welfare system replacement project with the design and implementation of Bridges, an integrated eligibility and payment solution that enables employees to manage eligibility determination, benefits issuance, and reporting processes from a single system. With Bridges, Michigan DHS can manage an increased volume of cases more efficiently and accurately with existing staff. Currently, approximately 3,000 caseworkers use the system to serve 2.2 million clients. In addition to determining eligibility for assistance programs, Bridges, built on SPARC Enterprise M9000 servers running on Oracle Solaris 10 and Oracle Database 11g Release 2, also integrates with the Michigan Department of Community Health (DCH) to share Medicaid eligibility information.
Michigan DHS was already using SPARC Enterprise M-series servers to successfully power its core and back-office applications, such as its enterprise resource planning systems. Therefore, deploying Bridges on the same reliable, scalable, and cost-effective foundation made sense from a fiscal and experience perspective, according to Tess Layman, director of the Department of Technology, Management and Budget’s (DTMB) Leveraged Services Division, which supports the Michigan Department of Human Services.
With the new Oracle foundation, Michigan DHS realized faster application processing, allowing it to serve citizens more efficiently in a time of need. For example, the system can now more rapidly generate customer communications, calculate benefits, and process electronic funds transfer for benefits payment. In some cases, processes are completed three-to-four hours earlier than previously.
Further, by integrating all of its systems, DHS is able to use a single rules engine for processing assistance requests—from intake to fulfillment—ensuring greater consistency. The new system also has reduced federal penalties incurred due to errors and ensured Michigan DHS can meet the federally mandated promptness standard. Currently, the agency responds to 93% of requests within the required timeframe.
The Oracle foundation delivers a scalable and fault-tolerant system that directly interfaces with other state systems, reducing time spent on programming, streamlining system maintenance, and cutting development costs. Today, the system meets current capacity with room for at least 10 years of growth. Furthermore, Oracle Solaris 10 adds reliability and stability to the system by eliminating concerns about viruses.
Currently, Michigan DHS operates on four SPARC Enterprise M-series servers, each having multiple dynamic domains (M9000 hardware partitions) and using both Oracle Real Application Clusters and an Oracle Solaris Cluster. DHS can quickly add processors and memory as needed by adding or moving M9000 system boards using dynamic reconfiguration. This dynamic resource management capability optimizes system resource utilization and accelerates new project deployment.
“With SPARC Enterprise M9000, we have the flexibility to move system boards around and add new boards using dynamic reconfiguration. We do not have to wait to install new network connections, electricity, cooling, and so on. This is especially important in a lean economic environment, as it helps us truly optimize every resource we have to more quickly deliver new services to citizens,” Layman said.
For example, in August 2009, to reduce the administrative burden on DHS staff due to growing demand, Michigan DHS deployed the MI Bridges self-service internet application, which enables Michigan citizens to apply for food and energy assistance without visiting the local DHS office. This project was on a very short timeline due to the impending end of federal unemployment benefits for a large number of Michigan citizens, who would then need to transition to food assistance and emergency energy programs. Thanks to the scalability of SPARC Enterprise M9000 servers, the state was able to purchase the system boards and install them in the existing chassis to quickly get the system up and running to serve citizens. Today, more than 150,000 clients use the self-service application. In December 2011, Michigan DHS will expand the MI Bridges system to include all of its state assistance programs and, in the future, it will likely be used to implement provisions of the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act in Michigan.
To ensure long-term storage of critical data from its Bridges system as well as other core applications, Michigan DHS relies on Oracle’s StorageTek tape systems, including the highly scalable and flexible StorageTek SL8500 and StorageTek SL3000 modular library systems, configured with StorageTek T10000A and StorageTek T10000B tape drives. Michigan DHS data is backed up in a consolidated tape environment, serving all of the State's agencies.
Michigan DHS takes advantage of Oracle’s system management tools, including Oracle Enterprise Manager 11g Grid Control to ensure the optimal configuration and performance of its environment.
“It enables the database administrators (DBAs) to do a lot of monitoring and tuning to get the most power out of each dynamic domain. The way our infrastructure works here, for every domain there is a hosting charge for someone to support the operating system and do the patching. So, the fewer domains that you can have and the more horsepower you can have within those domains, the more cost effective it is for the agency to host the environment,” Layman said.
Enhanced server performance has enabled Michigan DHS to significantly accelerate month-end processing. “It used to take two nights to complete month-end processes, and now we can complete it in a single evening, thanks to increased system performance and reduced manual intervention. That’s a significant improvement,” Layman said.
Michigan DHS determined that Oracle’s SPARC Enterprise M-series servers was the best option for achieving the reliability and robustness the agency needed. The SPARC Enterprise M9000 provided needed flexibility, as well as coordination to help resolve system issues.
Michigan DHS began migrating its technology infrastructure in 2008 and worked with Sun's professional services organization to provide implementation and application readiness services. It first implemented its core and back-office applications on SPARC Enterprise M9000, then deployed its child support enforcement system and the new Bridges system on the platform. Today, DHS continues to expand its use of SPARC Enterprise M9000 servers. It is using the platform to further build out the MI Bridges self-service portal.
Advice from Michigan Department of Human Services