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Posted Wednesday, February 9, 2022 by Team Northwoods

Strategies for Success: Realizing the Value of Cloud Technology for Human Services

As human services agencies have grown more comfortable with the idea of cloud technology, the conversation has shifted from “what should we do?” to “how do we get it right?”

In our experience, your agency will be more successful if you have a solid answer to that second question from the very beginning. If you recognize the difference between moving to the cloud simply to check a box and doing it in a purposeful, thoughtful way, you’re more likely to find a solution that provides long-term value and return on investment for both your agency and the community you serve.

Human Services Cloud Technology OptionsAll that said, we know cloud options can be confusing. Each one has advantages and limitations, and it can be tough to know what’s best for your agency.

No matter what you choose, there are some key best practices and mistakes to avoid that will help you be successful. Keep reading for an overview of what those best practices are.

Want to dive deeper? Download “Cloud Technology for Human and Social Services: The Guide to Getting It Right” to unlock more lessons learned over decades of helping both county and state agencies leverage modern technology.

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Cloud Technology for
Human and Social Services:
The Guide to Getting It Right

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Defining success is the first step to achieving it.

If you can’t define what “getting it right” looks like, it’ll be difficult to do anything else. What are the financial, operational, or security goals that need to be met for your project to be worth its investment? How will technology augment or improve your current processes or address areas that have been hindered in the past?

Be honest about your organization’s expertise.

How much do you want outside software providers to help you accomplish your goals?

For example, if your team is not very well-versed or trained in cloud architecture, the landscape of services offered, or the advantages that one provider has over the other, you’ll want to engage a partner early on to provide consultation and guidance on your plans. If you have a bit more experience and sophisticated level of understanding, you may not want to bring someone in until after you’ve defined your needs.

Problem-centric Human Services Technology

Have a clearly defined problem.

It can be easy to fall into a trap thinking that one piece of technology will instantaneously solve all your problems. Cut through the noise to identify the root cause that’s creating the most ripple effects across the agency.

Ask yourself: what will have the greatest impact on our core business? What’s keeping caseworkers from accomplishing their daily tasks? What’s causing the most frustration for clients? (Related resource: Think You’re Ready to Buy Human Services Technology? Think Again.)

Make sure your policies and processes allow for change.

Cloud technology won’t have much impact on your workers if policies or requirements are in place that keep them chained to their desks.

Additionally, look at your business processes to make sure you won’t fall back on old ways when you try to do something new and different. For example, a mobile app that requires internet connection may cause workers to fall back on paper when a connection isn’t available.

Don’t get too tempted by DIY mentality.

You may be thinking about building your own custom solution to fit your unique needs, but this could be a very costly mistake.

A commercial-off-the-shelf (COTS) product that can be configured to meet your needs and evolve over time will do the job 99 times out of 100—with a considerably smaller strain on resources and faster time to value. (Related resource: Build vs. Buy: Why COTS is the Smarter Choice for Human Services)

Phased Project Approaches for Human ServicesConsider starting small to achieve big results.

Because cloud technology is so easy to scale, many agencies have begun to see the appeal of a phased  approach, pilot project, or proof of concept where they incrementally implement a solution over time.

Starting with a small-scale project and limited group of users can help you validate that technology provides both quick results and footing for better outcomes in the future. (Related resource: How to Mitigate Risk, Maximize Results with New Human Services Technology)

Beware of potential hidden costs.

Make sure you understand what’s included in the subscription fee and what will cost extra.

For example, some vendors will break out things like hosting fees, integrations, or upgrades as separate line items, or turn off certain functionality of the software unless you add additional licensing. Some will present their initial price based on a set amount of storage, so you’ll have to pay more if you go over.

You can easily get in over your head from a financial perspective if you don’t look closely at how tools are set up and managed.

Proper integrations are critical.

As cloud technology gains popularity, a new challenge arises: integrating disparate systems to securely exchange data and information that your agency can use to improve service delivery and make informed decisions.

Integrations allow your agency to have the most accurate and up-to-date case and client information so that your workers can do their job effectively. It reduces manual work and risk of errors while improving data quality.

That’s why it’s so important to understand your options and make sure all your integration-related concerns have been addressed before you sign a contract.

Cybersecurity for Human ServicesBe security-minded to protect your system.

One of the major mishaps with cloud technology is that people tend to assume all security issues are automatically taken care of, simply because everything lives in the cloud. This is a dangerous mindset.

Operating in the cloud makes it easier and faster to recover from an issue, but you still need to have the right checks and balances in place.

Even if you’re not directly responsible for managing security, it’s good to be aware of best practices to protect your agency. (Related resource: How to Solve Your Human Services Agency’s Cybersecurity Problems Before They Start)

Look for a partner that provides value.

Just as two solutions are never quite the same, neither are two vendors. Even if companies look similar on paper, dig a little deeper and you’ll find subtle nuances in how each one approaches their business. It’s these nuances that will have a significant impact on your project’s success.

Industry experience, proven results, a deep understanding of your problems, and a focus on optimization are characteristics that demonstrate a technology provider will be active, engaged, and create lasting value for your agency as you scale your solution.

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Download the eBook for more advice on taking advantage of cloud technology. Since it’s written specifically for human services leaders, by the experts in human services software (that’s us!), you’ll find insights on topics like security, integrations, and change management. You’ll also get 30+ questions to set yourself up for success when evaluating cloud solutions and providers through a human services lens.

Jason Wintersteller, director of product, Jeff Turner, director of software engineering, Jeff Weidl, manager of solution architects, Lauren Hirka, product marketing manager, and Remington Davenport, software development manager, contributed to this eBook and post.

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