Posted Wednesday, December 2, 2020 by Team Northwoods

Getting the Green Light: Justify Spending on Human Services Technology

Is your human services agency planning to purchase new technology in 2021? In today’s world, agency leaders struggle to justify the need for new technology amid budget crises while IT leaders have been forced to cut many planned expenses in order to focus on the few that directly support COVID-19-related initiatives and precautions.

A comprehensive and compelling business case that presents three critical components—hard return on investment (ROI), non-quantifiable benefits, and the social/community impact of your purchase—may be a determining factor in whether your request gets the green light.

Our human services technology toolkit has an entire section dedicated to creating an effective business case for new technology that demonstrates all three of these pieces. Keep reading for a short excerpt.


Demonstrating ROI: Ideas & Inspiration

Decision-makers need to see upfront how you’ll recoup the costs of new technology. A strong ROI case should include tables, charts, or other visuals that provide this information in an easily digestible format.

It’s up to your agency to decide exactly what to include, but make sure to reflect the specific problems you’re aiming to solve and the factors that cause the greatest burden on your finances and resources. Agencies we’ve worked with often focus on:

  • ResearchLibrary-15Time savings. This is one of the most universal benefits of technology and should be included in most ROI cases. You should not only demonstrate how much time you’ll save but also how that number translates to annual value for the agency. (Our eBook has examples of time savings and other benefits shared by our Traverse customers in child welfare.)
  • Mileage. If technology helps reduce travel time (for example, minimizing the need to make multiple trips to the same residence to complete a referral for services), calculate value based on how many trips you’ll save and miles you would have had to reimburse.
  • Turnover. Use agency data around hiring, onboarding, training, or retention costs, as well as current rates of turnover and how much you can realistically slow them down, to demonstrate how much you could save by keeping workers in the same positions longer.
  • Overtime/comp time. Compare your anticipated time savings against how much you currently spend on overtime/comp time to show how much you’ll be able to bring those costs down.
  • Supplies and equipment. Consider everything you need to maintain paper case files (file folders, filing cabinets, storage space, copiers, printers, and ink/toner, to name a few). Demonstrate how digitizing your case files and eliminating paper will reduce these unnecessary expenditures.


Additional Benefits to Showcase

Beyond monetary returns, you’ll also want to include examples like these to show how the technology will help you work more effectively than in the past.

  • ResearchLibrary-11Improving client engagements. Highlight how workers can focus more energy on having quality conversations and engagements with clients, which will increase both customer and worker satisfaction while establishing trust in your agency.
  • Improving supervision. When technology allows supervisors to quickly review the key details of a case, they can have more time to focus on coaching and supporting workers instead of putting out fires all day.
  • Increasing collaboration and communication. Make clear how technology will reduce friction and facilitate smoother interaction across programs and people.
  • Mitigating risk when transferring cases. When technology eliminates redundancy, workers won’t have to worry about re-collecting information that already exists or repeating steps that have already been taken when taking on a new case. They can pick up where the previous worker left off with minimal disruption to services.
  • Supporting quality assurance. Focus on how technology will improve the accuracy, timeliness, and completeness of case information and data. Not only does this promote good practice and positive outcomes, but also ensures that you’re always audit/review ready.
  • Quickly accessing and applying information. Explain how improved access to information will help workers make better decisions and boost service levels. For example, child welfare workers can understand a family’s risk factors and focus on their greatest needs. Economic assistance workers can answer questions about anyone’s application status at a moment’s notice.


Social ROI & Community Impact

Time-savings and cost-savings only tell half the story. Finally, you also must show how technology gives you footing for better community-driven outcomes, as well as how these benefits extend to your partners.

Social ROI can help you capture the community impact and societal value that technology will provide by translating outcomes into financial value. Consider these examples:

  • ResearchLibrary-19Influence positive outcomes. If workers have more time to spend on child and family engagement, can you reduce the length of stay for kids in foster care? If so, how much can you improve the likelihood of positive outcomes in a child’s future? How will this translate to meaningful societal contributions?
  • Impact on community. If workers have more time to prepare for court, can you shorten the time families are involved in the system? What ripple effects will this create for schools, hospitals, or the legal system?
  • Promote self-sufficiency. If you can quickly provide families with a safety net (including all the benefits they’re eligible for, not just the one they seek out), how much faster can you move them toward self-sufficiency? Could this minimize the number of families who ultimately come in contact with child welfare?
  • Minimize churn. If you can automate processes to streamline Medicaid or SNAP/TANF renewals, how many fewer people will lose their benefits because they didn’t get their paperwork done in time? How will this help hospitals, food banks, or other community partners?
  • Improve case continuity. If you can minimize burnout and turnover, can you improve case continuity? How does this lead to improved outcomes for clients? How does this impact agency and partner resources?

At the end of the day, whether your technology plans come to fruition may boil down to how compelling and cohesive of a story you present about why you need to invest in new tools and how they’ll make an impact. These three components will strengthen your case and likelihood of getting approval.


This blog post is an excerpt from our resource, “Technology Toolkit: An Essential Buyer’s Guide for Human Services.” Download the full human services technology buyer's guide to learn more about building a successful business case, getting support from key stakeholders, and setting up your agency up for continued success.


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