United States

Social services board pioneers solution to serve those most in need


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Unfortunately, government agencies are sometimes best known for inefficiency and waste and for what some might call squandering taxpayer dollars. The Camden County Board of Social Services in New Jersey is turning that stereotype on its head.

Here's how:

During the recession that started in 2008, Camden County's Board of Social Services (BSS) experienced a huge spike in demand for services, with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) alone seeing a threefold increase in applications for food stamps. Meanwhile, the recession squeezed the county budget, spurring the agency to downsize its workforce by more than a hundred people.

Under the best of circumstances, the BSS's mission is a tall order. Its charter is to provide more than $750 million worth of services to more than 100,000 citizens across 37 municipalities. Outdated and fragmented technology had hampered the agency's workers for some time, but the recession made their jobs even harder. Over the years, each department had put into place a number of custom-built solutions that made it impossible for staff to share information or access the same records as their colleagues in other agency departments.

A client seeking assistance, for example, might apply for food stamps in one office and then be ushered down the hall to apply for Medicaid. Clients often had to wait as long as three months for an appointment with an intake officer and then another three months to receive benefits. "It is unacceptable for someone in need to wait six months for assistance," says Jim Rhodes, the chair of the BSS Board of Directors. "We needed to totally transform the business of our agency."

Instead of relying on a system that bounced clients between departments, Rhodes said they wanted to create a people-centered approach that attached information and services to the client, no matter where he or she went in the agency—what some in the industry are calling a "no wrong door" approach to human services. This way, clients can access services from any point of entry, allowing them to more easily navigate what might otherwise seem to be an inaccessible and unaccommodating bureaucracy. "Our goal is to treat our clients with the respect they deserve and connect them with the services they need," says Rhodes.

To turn around the agency, BSS leadership decided to make the bold move of deploying Microsoft Dynamics CRM®, a customer management solution, and Office 365, technologies known to many as private sector solutions.

As Microsoft partner RSM began implementation, the agency immediately saw the benefits of a single, unified system. BSS workers can now easily track clients across departments, manage cases faster and provide more personalized care, all while increasing workflow efficiency and reducing cost per case. Microsoft Dynamics CRM provides a holistic view of a client, capturing all touch points with agency staff and facilitating information-sharing, both within the agency and with other counties and states as needed. Because many business processes are now automated, a worker can help a client apply for any number of different services with one generic interview, dramatically accelerating the delivery of those services.

"From the executive level, Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Office 365 help us make decisions based on facts, as opposed to anecdotes or the fire that needs to be put out that day," says Shawn Sheekey, director, Camden County Board of Social Services. "What once was a fragmented agency is now becoming a lean, mean machine."

By streamlining and modernizing their operations, much like a for-profit business, Camden County BSS can better serve citizens. Carmen Rodriguez, publicly elected NJ Freeholder and liaison to the BSS, enthusiastically backed the move. She says, "Through the implementation of Microsoft Dynamics CRM and Office 365, the agency can more efficiently provide services to our county's most needy citizens and do so with fewer taxpayer resources. Board workers are now conducting initial interviews of clients on the same day clients first come in, something not possible only a few months ago."

Reprinted with permission

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