What Every State Can Learn from Indiana about Unemployment

Managing public funds is an enormous and challenging responsibility even when the world isn’t turned upside down. But when a global pandemic created far-reaching economic effects, subsequent emergency funding orders, and massive demand for services, that job became nearly impossible.

Current State of Affairs

Many states have limped along with outdated systems, processes, and infrastructure to deliver services for years. A legacy system is treated like an ancient artifact: nobody wants to touch one for fear of damage, but they must—it’s the only system they have. When prioritizing funds that are already strained, how can anyone justify the expense of modernizing large-scale state systems while they’re still functioning?

The harsh reality of what can happen to a neglected system came crashing down in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic brought an unprecedented onslaught of unemployment claims. Antiquated systems suffering from years of inadequate maintenance bottlenecked, overloaded, or entirely failed. Suddenly modernization was a priority, but nobody even had time to look for solutions while they were struggling to deliver services to the overwhelming number of people who desperately needed them.

The State of Indiana’s unemployment insurance system, however, never went down. Why is that?

A Different Approach

Successful modernization is a mindset more than a goal. It’s supporting the people operating a system with people who actively maintain it. It’s streamlining processes for efficiency, creating as close to real-time information updates as possible. It’s being able to quickly and accurately deliver needed services to citizens. And it’s making sure that new implementation has first taken into consideration all of the people the system will affect—operators, users, and decision-makers alike.

For states still trying to navigate pandemic fallout, two massive undertakings must happen at the same time: moving modernization forward while continuing to deliver in-demand services. It’s like building a jet pack while the car you’re traveling in is going over a cliff.

Indiana began its modernization efforts in earnest during the Great Recession. In a scenario similar to today’s, they had to continue delivering services while creating new infrastructure. UpLink, Indiana’s modernized unemployment insurance system, eliminated unsupported technology that was bringing significant risk to the agency. It was designed to be scalable—modified in response to changing demands, policies, and federal and state laws. As a result, it handled the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic with beauty and precision and never failed. It easily adapted to include of pandemic relief benefits as they went into law.

People Before Technology

Focusing on the transformation aspect of Digital Transformation before the technology that supports it keeps people first. Technology exists to support human endeavors, not the other way around. A real digital transformation can change the way delivering services happens in every stage: from filing claims, adjudicating, and receiving services to finding gaps in offerings, uncovering fraud, and informing policy.

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