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CalHHS’ IT and Data Strategic Plan Focuses on People

The California Health and Human Services Agency’s new IT and Data Strategic Plan underscores a resident-centric, integrated approach to services. It highlights the crucial role of IT professionals in advancing digital equity.

Graphs and circles overlayed on a person using a laptop.
One of California’s seven so-called “super agencies” is looking to change its approach to service delivery, and has released a new strategic plan to document in depth how that should happen.

The California Health and Human Services Agency (CalHHS) is shifting its focus from a program-centered service approach to that of a person-centered support network. Its 63-page 2024 IT and Data Strategic Plan, released in March, is the driving force behind the transition.

CalHHS comprises 12 departments and more than 38,000 employees, who manage the delivery of health and social service programs for more than 39 million California residents. Its organizational goals center on six agency priorities: data exchange; access; affordability; workforce; quality; and infrastructure. These priorities are designed to empower “digital leaders to act as connective tissue, linking program partners to integrate health and human services delivery.”

However, over the past few years, officials have been seeking a better way to link CalHHS’ various programs online, letting people accessing services interact across the enterprise regardless of their entry point. To bring this vision to life, CalHHS worked with the California Office of Technology and Solutions Integration (OTSI) to create the new strategic plan.

Government Technology spoke to two people who were instrumental in shaping the plan — Adam Dondro, the director of OTSI and CalHHS chief agency information officer (AIO); and Deanne Wertin, chief deputy director at the Office of Systems Integration and the agency’s deputy AIO. Previous strategic plans, Dondro said, had been focused on the efficiencies that could be gained by leveraging technology solutions and reducing costs.

“But we wanted to see a shift in the way that we think about the enterprise of the Health and Human Services Agency,” he said. “With OTSI acting as a technology adviser, we aimed to underscore the role of data in bridging systems. While individual programs within departments remain necessary, our goal is to ensure seamless collaboration across departments, all united in serving the people of California.”

Wertin added that the goal is for departments to work collaboratively — and for OTSI to work with them instead of taking an enterprise approach. Leaders champion a federated structure, fostering collaboration and integration at all levels to ensure departments retain autonomy while working towards common goals.

“That is about creating that type of culture — one of inter-agency integration and building on partnerships,” she said.

One integral aspect of the plan involves designing future systems with equity, accessibility and simplicity in mind. Dondro said that achieving this objective requires IT professionals to take an active role in driving equity through system design and implementation. He said that in a broader sense, the cultural shift to partnership and building together is the biggest challenge the agency will face while implementing the plan.

“Convincing IT professionals to recognize the direct correlation between working cohesively and our ability to drive equity and inclusion poses a challenge; and the impact extends beyond mere ADA compliance, for example, but encompasses the overall ease with which individuals access our programs,” Dondro said.

The AIO said that while policies may dictate how technology systems are designed for individuals to gain access, how agencies collaborate to communicate those policies and provide access directly influences the equity of the programs.

Prioritizing and reinforcing vendor relationships remains crucial to the technology OTSI seeks to fulfill the goals outlined in the strategic plan. Wertin said the plan will serve as a prerequisite for future vendors, with OTSI requesting technology providers think about how they can engage with each department to meet their specific needs and requirements and think about the bigger picture in order to become part of the solution.

Maintaining open lines of communication with local, county and state partners will also be essential as new technology initiatives are implemented, the two officials said, and OTSI has already formulated a method to analyze feedback and shape future IT initiatives for CalHHS.

“We’re looking at using a modified objective and key results-type model, with our strategic priorities sitting as the objectives; the foundation sitting as our key results; and the activities within each of those foundations representing those key performance indicators,” Dondro said. “By tracking these indicators, we ensure progress towards our objectives and the foundations supporting them.”

While OTSI expects to receive programmatic feedback about the plan, Wertin emphasized the agency’s commitment to a proactive approach in developing and enhancing IT initiatives rather than reacting to issues after they arise.

“If we implement these changes and only then start measuring their effectiveness, we’ve missed the mark,” she said. “We must design solutions with lived experiences and diverse perspectives in mind from the outset. By doing so, we ensure that our services are thoughtfully developed and better aligned with the needs of our communities.”

This article first appeared in Government Technology, sister publication to Industry Insider — California.
Ashley Silver is a staff writer for Government Technology magazine.