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Recapping the California Child Welfare Technology Vendor Forums: Part 1

The presentation from the 4 December 2015 California Child Welfare Technology vendor forum [pdf] has been published, and I thought I’d go through the slides picking out what I thought was interesting and worth paying attention to.

Some brief thoughts about the forum (I was there in person for the beginning before I had to head back to Portland):

  • The forum was packed – every seat was taken, and there were quite a few people standing, so I think there were probably over a hundred people attending in person;
  • I overheard a remark that someone had never seen quite so many “white men in suits” and yes – there were remarkably few women in attendance. It was also a very formally dressed audience! That’s not to say that there weren’t some people in more casual wear, but they were definitely in the minority. From this unrepresentative sample of one, government technology vendors look like a bit of a throwback.

It was amazing to hear from the speakers – especially the leadership who presented at the beginning – that this change in direction and approach was being used to:

  • reduce risk
  • make sure that the State understood what users of the system needed
  • increase the likelihood that users would get what they need to do their jobs

Also, I thought the speakers were pretty clear in being humble about the approach that California was taking, acknowledging that it was a significant change in direction but that it was one that needed to be taken and that they’re doing so with a wide range of support.

With all of that out of the way, I’ve included each slide from the presentation and will add some commentary under each one.

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Yep, that’s what we’re here for. A vendor forum at the Department for Social Services, 4 December, 2015.

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A brief welcome from Les Fujitani, the project director, which means he’s super involved in the (formerly monolithic, now modular) procurement process.

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Overview of the agenda for the forum.

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Les covered the usual information about exit routes and restrooms and explained to the room that the state wouldn’t be taking questions at this forum. Instead, questions could be submitted via email to CWS-NSP@osi.ca.gov. Les also mentioned that there would be another web-only conference bidder forum in about 2 weeks (which would make it around Friday 18th December).

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John Boule, Director of the Office of Systems Integration went first, followed by Pat Leary, Chief Deputy Director of the California Department of Social Services. I’m sad that there isn’t a recording of the forum, because the big deal here was John and Pat talking about how important the following concepts were and why the state decided to take a modular, agile and iterative approach in this procurement:

  • the current system, CWS/CMS is *really old* (like, Visual Basic old)
  • the traditional approach anticipated rolling out a completely new system in around five years’ time
  • that despite two years of work on the procurement, an understanding that requirements and needs change over time (and are rarely correct first time)
  • and that working in an agile, iterative way meant that the state could focus on understanding and meeting its users needs to provide world-class child welfare services

It was really important to hear this from Boule and Leary. Boule, as director of the Office of Systems Integration, runs the technical project management office that serves all of the California Health and Human Services Agency. Working in an agile and iterative way means that his office is able to better meet the needs of agency users and be more responsive.

Leary, as Chief Deputy of the California Department of Social Services doesn’t have an explicit technology mandate: CDSS’ job is to set the policy and enable delivery by counties of child welfare services. But_ _the success of her job is reliant upon making sure that child welfare workers at the state and county level have access to the services and tools they need to do their jobs well, and she made clear that a major part of this change in direction was to emphasize a continuous focus on what those users need and making sure those needs are met.

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OK, so now Alex Chin from the California Department of Technology talking about procurement in general.

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The big thing here is that vendors are going to have to use California’s eProcure service to view and submit bids, that they need to register with the Secretary of State to do business with the State of California (which you can also do through the eProcure service) and details about resources for small businesses and disabled veteran businesses.

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And here, the first public information on what the two RFP modules are going to be:

  1. Platform/API
  2. Intake

both of which the state expects to release by the end of December 2015, and then additional RFPs for modules roughly every six months following December.

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Now an update from Peter Kelly, who’s the Deputy Director of the Child Welfare System Division at OSI , and Kevin Gaines Chief of the Child Protection and Family Support Branch at DSS. Peter and Kevin make up two-thirds of the project leadership team, respectively the technical/delivery management and product/service management.CWS_Vendor_Forum_12.4.2015 30

Kelly first covered the benefits of switching to this new approach: that it would enable delivery of new services and upgraded functionality in FY 2016/2017 instead of in FY 2020/2021, which was anticipated in the previous, monolithic RFP. There was strong emphasis here that the State would be expecting early and frequent delivery of business value (ie: services that meet users’ needs) due to focussing on working software delivered at the end of every sprint.

Importantly, Kelly signaled that there was the intent to build long-term service delivery skills and capabilities in government at Health and Human Services and that the state will be working with the vendor community to develop DevOps capability to run and develop maintain services long-term.

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Kelly emphasized that the scope of work – the job to be done – was still the same, but that what was changing was the way that the goals would be achieved. CWS_Vendor_Forum_12.4.2015 32

Again, a reminder as to how the previous, monolithic RFP, would be broken up and why: so that better services and tools could be delivered more quickly to users who need them; to make sure that users’ needs are understood and validated; and to reduce the risk of a large system failure (ie: ‘putting all of your eggs in one basket’). CWS_Vendor_Forum_12.4.2015 33

Kelly also underscored that this is a change in direction for the State – to move from procuring giant technology “solutions” to thinking about the digital services needed to deliver government services that work and that continuously improve over time. Also, that this is a platform play from Health and Human Services: that a lot of the technology that will be developed for CWS will probably be used to power services across other Health and Human Services departments, and that a major outcome is to make clear progress toward understanding and meeting the needs of users.

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This slide should hopefully be familiar in terms of demonstrating California’s understanding of what it’s looking for in minimum viable products at each stage of delivering the Child Welfare Service. CWS_Vendor_Forum_12.4.2015 35

Kelly talked through an overview of one of the first two modules, the “Platform module”. He explained that the intent was for the state to, over time, direct and control a platform based on modern, RESTful APIs, that would support agile, iterative delivery of web-based services to meet users’ needs. This platform would also replace the listed services above like data validation, consistency checking, data access, referential integrity, transaction support services, logging, security and business rules that are currently performed in both the thick client and the enterprise host (mainframe).

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Above is another, very high-level architecture overview of how CWS-NS is expected to fit together. Eight user-facing core services (intake, children’s residential licensing, case management, resource management, court processing, eligibility, financial management and administration) that sit on top of a platform that supplies common services and access to datastores. This platform would also provide access to data in the legacy system as the Strangler pattern is used, and also provide abstracted access to new datastores as the platform evolves. CWS_Vendor_Forum_12.4.2015 37

Here, Kevin Gaines talked about how the scope of the new multi-RFP procurement for design and development would still cover the same overall goal. All of the listed high-level business services are from the original monolithic RFP and are services that are part of federal SACWIS/CCWIS requirements.

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Gaines covered the product vision of the Intake Service, another example of how the team has shifted its thinking in terms of concrete, up-front specifications and requirements…

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… and broke down how Intake itself is comprised of two different parts: an “intake” phase which involves collecting information, searching prior history, assessing risk, making a decision as to the current case and then (potentially) transferring for investigation; and the “investigation” phase which involves collecting interview data, assessing risk, making a disposition/decision and then producing the case plan. CWS_Vendor_Forum_12.4.2015 40… and that was that. The California team asked for questions to be submitted over email to CWS-NSP@osi.ca.gov and announced that there would be another bidder conference/vendor forum on 18th December to be held over web conference.

Part 2 will cover the vendor forum held on 18th December.